You run a good shop and you look out for your workers. Why do you have to obey all those federal rules, like putting up posters? OSHA, that’s why.
OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the legislation that makes these requirements. Congress passed this law in 1970 to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working people. It sets and enforces safety standards and provides training, outreach, education, and assistance.
What is the purpose of OSHA if you take reasonable precautions to keep your workplace and your staff safe?
Here are five reasons why the federal government set up these rules.
1. History of Worker Oppression
Before OSHA became law, workers were at the mercy of their employers. To earn a decent wage, they often toiled in dangerous conditions.
As labor became industrialized, more workers found employment in dangerous environments. They worked in factories that were vulnerable to fire and mines in danger of collapse. If they got hurt or disfigured and could not work, they had little recourse against the employers.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is one example of a workplace tragedy that inspired the modern labor movement. Hundreds of women worked in a dress factory without fire codes and capacity regulations. They died when a fire broke out in the workplace and they could not get out of the building.
Franklin Roosevelt later established the National Labor Relations Board which permitted workers to unionize. They now could bargain for safer conditions and better pay with their employers.
OSHA grew out of the unionized labor movement as another development in the protection of workers’ rights.
2. Dangerous Conditions
As the country moved from an agrarian economy to an industrialized one, employers needed more and more workers to run the machines that drove transportation, construction, and manufacturing.
The Department of Labor claims that before the passage of OSHA, approximately 14,000 workers died on the job in 1970. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009, while at the same time U.S. employment almost doubled.
OSHA created awareness of construction-related injuries and deaths from falls, falling objects, electrocutions, and getting crushed. It also publicized the hazards of asbestos, benzene, lead, and bloodborne pathogens.
OSHA made rules to keep workers safe from these dangers. The rules ranged from posting your rights as an employee to making sure people wear certain protective gear.
According to the annual AFL-CIO study Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, more than 553,000 workers’ lives were saved by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
OSHA requires that workplaces and equipment are safe. It also requires training to prevent these kinds of accidents. For example, you have to provide forklift training courses to employees before they can drive one.
3. Better Safe Than Sorry
OSHA mandates strict penalties when a business does not follow its rules. Business owners can face jail time and heavy fines.
In certain industries like healthcare, the rules are even more rigorous. If inspectors find serious violations that involve probability death or serious physical harm, they may fine the employer up to $7,000.
If an employer fails to address a hazard, they are considered willful. Willful violations are treated even more harshly. OSHA can fine a healthcare employer up to $7,000 per day for a flagrant delay in fixing the violation. up to $70,000.
In 2016 OSHA raised its penalties 80 percent in 2016. A serious violation can fetch a maximum penalty of $13,260, and a willful or repeat violation can cost over $130,000.
These kinds of fines will take a big bite out of any profits you may have made by avoiding safety regulations.
If an employee dies as a result of an employer’s willful violation, the employer may be jailed. You can’t run a very successful business if you are in jail, right?
4. We All Benefit From Safe Workplaces
No employer wants to get in trouble with the government. Keeping the workplace safe and obeying the law is the best way to avoid legal trouble. Lawsuits and fines create bad publicity and can damage your business.
Employees who are safe and happy in their jobs are more productive. You are more likely to complete jobs efficiently and retain a good workforce if you comply with OSHA.
Even if an employee gets hurt by accident, you will pay through medical insurance costs and lost productivity. By investing in people’s safety, you actually protect your profitability.
5. The Power of the Profit Motive
Unfortunately, employers and foremen face lots of pressures. They need to keep up production. They need to meet deadlines.
Public companies must please stockholders. Even small businesses face steep competition to keep prices low.
Sometimes an employer may believe the best way to cut corners is to skirt the rules. He might fail to replace a rusty machine. He may pass on training for employees who seem to know what they are doing.
However, these attempts to save money can end up costing more in the long run. An employee can sue for OSHA violations. The government can shut you down, halting production until the violations are addressed.
OSHA levies high fines to deter employers from cutting corners. It threatens a loss of profits when companies seek profits at the expense of people’s lives.
If a company is not motivated to keep its employees healthy, OSHA has the power to make it do so.
If a business gets shut down for violations, the cost comes to the company owner but many more people are affected. Employees may not get paid and may be unable to pay their bills. Companies that rely on those products may have to raise prices or shut down too. A closed factory can affect the entire community and the local economy.
What is the Purpose of OSHA: To Keep Individuals, Businesses and the Economy Safe
If you are upset about the high costs of training, certifications, and safety equipment, think again. If you wonder, “What is the purpose of OSHA?” – then think about what happens if your employees are hurt or sick and you are at fault.
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