Definition of OSHA (Occupational and Safety Health Administration)


The Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) is a Washington, D.C.-based federal agency. Its mission is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”

What is the Occupational and Safety Health Administration?

The United States Occupational and Safety Health Administration, more commonly known as OSHA, is housed under the Department of Labor’s umbrella.

This division is responsible for setting and enforcing safety standards for most industries in the U.S. Even those few exceptions that aren’t required to adhere to OSHA’s reporting standards are responsible for notifying the agency when an onsite incident occurs.

Why is OSHA important to your businesses?

OSHA is important to businesses for several reasons:

  • Monitors and inspects. OSHA monitors and inspects workplaces to make sure that employers are creating safe and healthy work conditions
  • Standards. OSHA sets health and safety standards for a variety of industries
  • Training. As part of its goal to prevent workplace injuries, OSHA trains employers on workplace health and safety measures

What is OSHA’s history?

OSHA opened its doors in 1971. The agency’s creation was a direct result of the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

OSHA’s administrator directly reports to the Secretary of Labor.

It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., but it also has regional and area offices around the country.

Who does OSHA regulate?

OSHA, or an OSHA-approved state program, regulates safety and health conditions in most private industries. OSHA has jurisdiction over approximately 7 million worksites.

Workers not covered by OSHA jurisdiction include:

  • State or local government workers. OSHA monitors public sector employers and does not have the authority to fine a federal agency.
  • Freelancers, independent contractors, self-employed workers
  • Employees in industries that are regulated by another federal agency. For example, OSHA does not regulate the aviation industry because it is under the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority.
  • Colorado farms with 9 or fewer employees


OSHA enforces the Occupational and Safety Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The OSH Act requires that employers provide safe and healthy workplaces for their employees.

According to OSHA, the OSH Act creates several significant employer responsibilities. According to their website, those obligations include:

  • Complying with the standards, rules, and regulations set forth by the OSH Act
  • Displaying OSHA posters that inform employees of their rights and responsibilities in prominent workplace locations
  • Keeping records of work-related injuries and illnesses. Small employers, those with 10 or fewer employees and employers in specified low-hazard industries, are exempt from this requirement
  • Making sure that employees have tools and equipment that are safe to use
  • Not retaliating against employees who report unsafe working conditions
  • Properly maintaining workplace equipment
  • Providing a workplace that is free from recognized serious hazards
  • Reporting work-related injuries within 24 hours
  • Reporting work-related fatalities to the nearest OSHA office within 8 hours
  • Warning employees of potential hazards through the use of color codes, posters, labels, or signs

OSHA regulations are called standards.

OSHA also enforces the whistleblower protection provisions of more than 20 laws, including the:

  • Clean Air Act
  • Federal Railroad Safety Act, etc.
  • OSH Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act

OSHA Violations

There are five different types of violations that carry financial penalties. However, sometimes OSHA investigators find “de minimis violations that have no direct or immediate impact on workplace safety and health.” Minor violations such as these do not require penalties or abatement.

State-run plans

OSHA encourages states to adopt their own workplace health and safety plans. At a minimum, state programs must meet federal OSHA standards. Some of the state programs go even further. They have more stringent requirements than those found under federal OSHA law and regulations. Currently, 28 states operate an OSHA-approved plan.

Employers should check to see if their state has its own OSHA standards and their obligations under the state-run program.

OSHA Inspections

OSHA inspections can occur because of:

  • An employee complaint
  • An enforcement priority
  • A workplace injury or fatality

Worker complaints alleging hazards or violations receive a high priority when it comes to scheduling inspections. Employees can make anonymous complaints to OSHA. Inspections for workplaces in high-hazard industries or employers with a high rate of injuries and illnesses also receive a high priority when it comes to inspections.

Follow-up inspections can also occur. Agency inspectors can return to ensure the remediation of previously cited violations has occurred.

If a low-priority hazard has been reported, OSHA may call the employer to describe the allegation and follow up with a fax providing more details.

OSHA sometimes conducts inspections via phone and fax. If a low-priority hazard has been reported, OSHA may call the employer to describe the allegation and follow up with a fax providing more details. The employer must respond to the claim within 5 working days. The response must detail planned corrective actions or describe corrective actions that were taken. If OSHA is satisfied with the response, then an onsite inspection will not be necessary.

An onsite inspection involves the OSHA compliance officer:

  • Presenting their credentials
  • Explaining why the workplace was selected for the investigation
  • Conducting employee interviews
  • Walking around the premises to observe working conditions

At the end of the inspection, the compliance officer and the employer have a closing conference to discuss the findings.

Other important information that can assist you

Summary of the definition of OSHA

OSHA’s mission is to ensure the workplace is safe for workers. The agency is responsible for setting safety standards and ensuring employers comply with the requirements. Employers and H.R. pros can work with state and federal OSHA programs to create healthy and productive workspaces for employees.

OSHA conducts investigations when necessary. Most inspections occur without advance notice. However, according to OSHA, employers have the right to require OSHA inspectors to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite.

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