OSHA Safety Training FAQs
Get the answers to your most frequently asked questions about OSHA safety training from our team of experts.
What Is OSHA?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), tasked with ensuring "safe and healthful working conditions" on behalf of workers.
What Does OSHA Stand For?
OSHA stands for "Occupational Safety and Health Administration." It was established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is referred to as the OSH Act to avoid any confusion.
What Is the Purpose Of OSHA?
Before OSHA, there were only a few specialized industries (like mining) whose workplaces had federal safety regulations. As a result, OSHA estimates that in 1970 there were around 14,000 workers killed on the job every year.
By 2017, in a workforce twice as large as that of 1970, there were roughly 5,000 deaths. That 80% reduction is the purpose of OSHA.
OSHA accomplishes this by:
- Setting specific workplace safety standards for recognized hazards.
- Using the General Duty Clause to cover new and miscellaneous hazards.
- Approving state-level plans that meet or exceed federal standards.
- Tracking and publishing statistics about workplace fatalities and injuries.
- Establishing workforce safety training guidelines and "training the trainers."
- Investigating occupational safety and health complaints.
- Conducting random and requested inspections of worksites.
- Levying fines and citations against safety infractions.
- Protecting employees from retaliation when they "blow the whistle" on an unsafe workplace.
Those are just the big ones—OSHA runs a host of other programs that support their mission.
When Was OSHA Created?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (also known as the OSH Act) was passed by the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support in 1970 and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
It went into effect in April of 1971, which included the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). By the close of 1972, OSHA had adopted its baseline safety standards, established the OSHA Training Institute (OTI) for compliance officers, created safety standards for asbestos and construction-specific work, established incident reporting requirements, and begun to approve "state plans" that extended coverage to public sector workers.
OSHA has continued to add and update standards in the last five decades as our understanding of workplace hazards evolved.
How Do You File an OSHA Complaint?
If you think your employer is violating workplace safety laws, you can file a safety and health complaint with OSHA confidentially and/or anonymously. You don't need to know what specific OSHA standard is being violated. You can file online, by fax or mail, or by telephone.
OSHA also provides "whistleblower" protections to protect you from retaliation if you speak up about workplace safety. Unlike safety violations, a whistleblower complaint CANNOT be anonymous—you'll have to provide your name and contact information, and there is a ticking clock on reporting whistleblower violations. OSHA defines "retaliation" as:
- Firing you, laying you off, blacklisting, or failing to hire/rehire
- Demoting, denying promotion, or reassigning you to a position that affects promotion prospects
- Reducing pay or hours, denying overtime, or denying benefits
- Imposing discipline, intimidating you, or making threats
Who Is Not Covered By OSHA?
OSHA does NOT apply to:
- Public sector employees (those who work for a state/commonwealth, county, or municipal government) in states and territories that don't have an OSHA-approved State Plan. That includes 24 states and D.C.
- Self-employed individuals (including "gig" jobs where you're an "independent contractor")
- Immediate family members of farm employers
- Workplace hazards regulated by another federal agency, including those of nuclear power and mining
Who Is Exempt from OSHA Regulations?
You're only exempt from OSHA completely if you're not under their jurisdiction (see above). But there are cases where you're covered by OSHA but exempt from certain standards.
The most common exemption people are concerned with is OSHA injury and illness records. You're exempt from this record-keeping if:
- You had 10 or fewer employees at all times during the previous calendar year
- You belong on OSHA's list of specified, low-risk industries
However, NO ONE is exempt from the requirement to report any incident that results in a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.
What Are the OSHA Construction Standards Also Called?
You may hear OSHA's Construction standards referred to by their federal code numbers: Part 1926 and Part 1910.
Construction-specific regulations are listed under 29 CFR 1926, and general industry provisions (some of which apply to construction) are listed under 29 CFR 1910.
There Are Three Parts to An OSHA Inspection. What Are They?
For the most part, you won't get any warning that an OSHA inspection is coming, so there's really no way to prepare—other than practicing workplace safety standards every day.
Once an OSHA inspector arrives, you can expect three stages to happen:
- The Opening Conference: This is really just a brief meeting where the OSHA inspector meets the other parties involved (the ranking on-site manager and maybe an authorized employee representative, among others). The inspector will present their credentials and explain the purpose and scope of the inspection. How was your facility chosen for inspection? Did they come due to a complaint or reportable incident? Will the inspection be comprehensive or partial?
- The Walkaround: The OSHA inspector tours the facility and observes working conditions. They'll take photos, jot down notes, and ask questions. They may ask to interview a number of workers, especially if no employee representative comes on the tour. Depending on the size of the worksite and the scope of the inspection, this could take anywhere from a day to a few weeks.
- The Closing Conference: If the inspector identified any hazards or violations, they'll discuss these and explain any citations or fines. They'll also discuss the methods for fixing the problem and the date by which it needs to get done.
What Type of OSHA Inspection Is Conducted When Immediate Death or Serious Harm is Likely?
When OSHA believes immediate death or serious harm is likely, they conduct an Imminent Danger inspection. These inspections are the highest priority, and OSHA tries to conduct inspections the same day if it suspects an imminent danger situation.
If employers can't remove the imminent danger immediately, OSHA will ask them to remove all employees at risk of being injured. If the employer refuses, OSHA might request an injunction prohibiting work from continuing. At the least, the compliance officer will notify employees of the danger and explain their right to refuse work that puts them at immediate risk.
What are the Six Major Types of OSHA Violations?
OSHA classifies health and safety violations into six categories:
- WILLFUL VIOLATIONS: You (the employer) either knowingly violated a legal requirement (called "purposeful disregard") or you acted with obvious indifference to employee safety. If the violation results in someone's death, then it becomes a criminal offense.
- SERIOUS VIOLATIONS: The inspector found a safety or health hazard with a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm. You may get a reprieve from the "serious" classification if you didn't or couldn't know about the hazard through "an exercise of reasonable diligence."
- OTHER-THAN-SERIOUS VIOLATIONS: The inspector found a violation directly related to safety or health, but it's unlikely to result in death or serious physical harm. In other words, no one could reasonably predict that this hazard would kill or badly hurt anyone.
- DE MINIMUS VIOLATIONS: A violation exists, but it doesn't directly impact safety or health. In other words, the violation is purely technical. "De minimus" violations don't get included in OSHA citations, though the inspector will verbally notify you and include a note in the inspection case file.
- REPEATED VIOLATIONS: The inspector finds a violation that is "substantially similar" to a citation issued to the same organization (anywhere) within the last three years. Something is "repeated" rather than "willful" if the violation could be due to an inadvertent, accidental, or ordinarily negligent act.
- FAILURE TO ABATE VIOLATIONS: OSHA issued a citation for a hazard and specified a date by which the violation needed to be fixed, and you failed to fix it in time. You'll be fined for every day past the deadline that the violation continues.
What Are Employers Required to Do After Receiving an OSHA Citation?
After an employer receives an OSHA citation from a compliance safety and health officer (CSHO), officially known as an "OSHA Notice," they have to post a copy at or near the place where each violation occurred.
The posted notice must remain in the required location(s) for 3 working days (excluding weekends and federal holidays) or until the hazard is abated, whichever's longer. This requirement alerts employees to the hazards present.
What Is OSHA Training?
Any training related to OSHA regulations might be referred to as "OSHA training."
OSHA training can range from classroom training to hands-on training or online training. Some are developed specifically for your employer or site, while some are more universally focused.
What Are OSHA's Training Requirements?
Many OSHA standards contain regulations that say a worker at risk of being exposed to a hazard needs to be trained about the hazard and related safety measures. OSHA publishes a list of required training topics to help you understand who needs what.
The agency avoids getting too specific on how mandatory training is fulfilled. They say employers need to train workers to do their job safely, no more and no less. That doesn't mean you can fudge or rubber-stamp their training—workers need functional knowledge to obey OSHA standards on a day-to-day basis. That way your site is always ready for an unexpected inspection and workers are ready to answer inspectors' questions.
OSHA does get a little more prescriptive with its Outreach training courses (which you might know as OSHA 10 or OSHA 30 DOL Cards). These programs are considered voluntary by OSHA, but they're mandatory in some locations or industries. They're intended as "hazard awareness" overviews and don't replace or waive any training requirements. However, they do contain required safety topics, so they provide a base on which to build required training.
Why Is OSHA Training Important?
No one can protect themselves from a danger they don't understand.
That's why OSHA requires safety training. OSHA's requirements mean employees are informed about the potential dangers they face and taught how to avoid or minimize them.
And from the business end of things, well-trained employees practice safety every day. This lowers your workers' comp costs, reduces the likelihood of receiving an OSHA fine, and improves your workforce's productivity.