The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act of 1974 is law in the United Kingdom that outlines regulations concerning workplace safety, health, and welfare. It establishes rules – from employee training to maintenance procedures – that all employers and employees in England, Scotland, and Wales must follow or else be punished as is applicable by the law.
What does the Health and Safety Act have to do with American small-business owners? Nothing! Except to serve as a reminder that our country doesn’t have one neat and tidy law that governs all aspects of health and safety in the workplace. Most of our health and safety laws – including those that regulate Workers’ Compensation Insurance systems – are dictated by the states (a pesky fact that means Workers' Comp rates vary considerably depending on where you live. More on that here: Workers' Comp Insurance Cost Analysis).
This freedom was spelled out in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in 1970, which said the states could govern workplace safety as long as their programs were as good as the newly minted federal program. Read on to learn more about how OSHA affects you.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act: A Very American Law
Back in the day, the United States didn’t have much in the way of workplace health and safety laws – and it showed. In 1969 – one year before OSHA was enacted – about 14,000 workers died of workplace injuries and illnesses, while another 2 million workers were non-fatally hurt or disabled on the job. (Learn more about the history of workplace safety here: A Brief (Non-Boring) History of Workers’ Compensation.)
So OSHA was developed to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women” by…
- Setting standards.
- Enforcing those standards.
But it also, as we mentioned, encouraged states to create their own plans, which OSHA would approve and monitor. Currently, 22 states have State Occupational Safety and Health Plans for both the public and private sectors. Five more states have plans for public employees only. You can read more about the State OSHA Program on the OSHA website.
Many states with OSHA programs (but definitely not all!) adopted language identical to that of the federal standards. Below, we take a look at some of the basic requirements that may affect you, the small-business owner.
How OSHA Affects Small-Business Owners
Not all business owners and employees are covered under OSHA. For example, the following groups may be exempt:
- Self-employed individuals (e.g., freelancers and independent contractors).
- Some types of farm employees.
- Workers in industries that are regulated by other federal agencies, such as those in most manufacturing and transportation industries.
OSHA requirements may vary depending on the industry you work in. However, many industries operate under similar provisions, such as ensuring employees have access to…
- Medical and exposure records.
- Personal protective equipment.
- Hazard communication.
- Paperwork to file OSHA complaints.
- Notices (posters, brochures, etc.) about workplace health and safety.
For a complete rundown of OSHA’s basic provisions, visit this guide on the OSHA website. Additionally, most employers are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records relating to…
- Employee deaths.
- Missed days of work.
- Restricted work / job transfers.
- Medical treatment (beyond first aid).
- Loss of consciousness.
- Work injuries and illnesses.
- Other conditions, such as tuberculosis infection or hearing loss.
Though employers must report injuries, illnesses, and fatalities to OSHA, the precise procedure for doing so often varies by the state.
Note: small businesses with 10 or fewer employees don’t have to keep OSHA records unless instructed to do so by a federal department (e.g., Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, small businesses are still required to report fatalities and hospitalizations.
This post is part of an ongoing series on Workers’ Compensation Insurance and the high cost of occupational injuries. Stay tuned for more on how to handle work injury claims, adhere to state Workers’ Comp laws, and find affordable coverage!