OSHA safety standards aim to keep workers safe from injuries or death, but they only work when employers adhere to them and rigorously enforce safe working conditions. Employers who ignore OSHA rules and recommendations negligently put their employees at risk. Over the past few decades, whistleblower protections and enhanced enforcement have made it easier for workers to report problems and force corrective actions.
Established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA is charged with protecting workers from unsafe working conditions and regulating the operations of everyone from construction companies and manufacturing facilities, to hospitals and corner grocery stores. It is a daunting task and nationwide there are only 2,200 inspectors who are responsible for protecting the health and safety of more than 130 million American workers. Even so, OSHA inspectors inspect more than 8 million sites each year.
Outnumbered, but not Outgunned
With precious few inspectors and millions of worksites, it is a daunting challenge for OSHA to keep ahead of unsafe operators. This is why the agency focuses their attention on high-risk industries, known offenders, and investigating worker reports of serious violations. The agency has also implemented the Voluntary Protection Program. This allows companies that meet rigorous safety standards and develop strong health and safety management programs to exempt themselves from OSHA programmed inspections. This saves inspectors time and reduces the impact of inspections and disruptions to the workflow in the workplace.
The Evolution of Work and of OSHA
The 21st-century workplace is evolving rapidly. Technology is making it possible to automate many hazardous occupations and thus remove workers from potential harm. Of course, that won’t eliminate all workplace hazards, and indeed, some hazards will always be present. OSHA is working to update regulations and adjust enforcement strategies to account for the evolution of the workplace and the technologies that can improve workplace safety. Similarly, the agency is making it easier for workers to file complaints and for inspectors to investigate and monitor problem actors. The fact is that the agency is adapting and adopting standards that meet the needs of the 21st-century workplace. It is a slow process, but the agency is working internally to streamline the regulatory process and work closely with employers to develop standards that meet today’s needs and address the potential problems of tomorrow.