There is, of course, a degree of danger in every aspect of daily life.
But when an employee enters the workplace, he or she is entitled—by law—to expect that all reasonable measures have been taken to minimize the chance of injury in their work environment.
Still, even with modern regulations governing workplace safety, 4,585 Americans died while at work in 2013, the most recent statistics available.
Workplace fatality statistics are a stark reminder that even in normally ‘safe’ work environments, there are elements of danger that have to—as dictated by law—be proactively addressed by employers.
As all responsible employers know, there are numerous regulations that govern workplace safety. On the federal level, there are three agencies within the Department of Labor (DOL) that have responsibility for the enforcement of laws pertaining to the safety and health of American workers.
Most prominent among the federal regulators of workplace safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA, or OSHA-approved state plans, regulates safety and health conditions in most private industries. With the exception of miners, some transportation workers, public employees and the self-employed, all other American workers fall under the jurisdiction of OSHA.
In addition to OSHA, the other DOL agencies responsible for worker safety include the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLS). The MSHA is responsible for administration and enforcement of the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which was designed to protect the safety and health of workers employed in the nation’s mines.
For its part, the FLSA has oversight for American workers under the age of 18, and is administered by the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division. The FLSA provides strict guidelines regarding the hiring of young Americans (under 18) in terms of the number of hours they may work, and the type of jobs they may perform.
There are also several other regulations—both federal and state—that are designed with the intent to ensure workplace safety. Although OSHA has federal oversight of safety in the workplace, individual states also have established entities that often partner with OSHA and are charged with protecting workers’ safety.
For example, in the nation’s most populous state, the California Department of Public Health operates its Occupational Health Branch (OHB) whose stated mission is to “prevent injury and illness on the job before they occur.”
As is the case with most other state-run occupational health offices, California’s OHB advocates a strongly proactive approach to workplace safety; its stated mission is multi-faceted, with six primary objectives:
Track patterns of work-related injury and illness
Develop training and informational materials
Provide technical assistance to others to prevent work-related injury and illness
Work with partners to develop safer ways to work
Recommend protective occupational health standards
Of course, even with both federal and state oversight, it is impossible to guarantee that any workplace is 100 percent safe, 100 percent of the time.
It’s important to remember that the goal of workplace safety programs is not to achieve perfection, but to minimize risks to employees–by maximizing all the precautions taken in order to achieve as safe a workplace as can reasonably be expected; simply put, every employer has a legal responsibility to their workers to do just that.
Yet, even in a proactively safe workplace, accidents can happen.
In our next blog posting, we’ll examine the related topic of Workers’ Compensation—the financial consequences resulting from workplace accidents.