Most employers know that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires covered employers to provide a safe workplace for employees. (To find out if you are covered by OSHA and to learn about its workplace safety requirements, read Nolo's article OSHA: Complying With Workplace Health and Safety Laws.) To prove that you're in compliance -- and ensure that employees know their workplace safety rights -- OSHA also requires employers to meet a number of paperwork and reporting requirements. Employers who don't comply with these rules risk fines and penalties.
OSHA has a lot of rules about which records you must keep. Some of these rules are straightforward; some are arcane. Some apply to all employers; some apply to just a few. This article covers the more generally applicable recordkeeping rules. Your obligations probably don't end here, however. For a detailed discussion of OSHA's recordkeeping requirements, refer to the OSHA Recordkeeping Handbook, at OSHA's website.
Employers must keep records of any work-related deaths, injuries, or illnesses. They must also keep records of their efforts to comply with OSHA and of their actions to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.
There are two exceptions to these recordkeeping requirements: If you have ten or fewer employees, you must keep these records only if OSHA asks you specifically to do so. The same is true if you operate in a low-hazard retail or service industry, such as banking or advertising. For a complete list of these exempt industries, visit OSHA's website at www.osha.gov.
All employers -- even those not covered by the recordkeeping requirements described above -- must report to OSHA any accident that results in one or more deaths or the hospitalization of three or more employees. You must make this report within eight hours of the accident.
To make a report, call OSHA's toll free number at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or call your local OSHA office. To find a map of local OSHA offices, visit OSHA's website at www.osha.gov and click "OSHA Offices."
All employers covered by OSHA must post the following information:
In addition, if you are covered by OSHA's recordkeeping requirements described above, you must post a log and summary of occupational illnesses and injuries.
You can obtain an OSHA poster from the agency's website at www.osha.gov (in the "About OSHA" section click "publications," then choose "posters" in the drop down list). Most employers will need only the poster titled "Job Safety and Health: It's The Law."
OSHA compliance officers can enter and inspect your workplace as part of their general enforcement duties or in response to a specific complaint. Although you have a right to demand that the officer have an actual warrant before conducting the inspection, once the officer hands you the warrant, you must submit.
If the agency subsequently decides that you have violated the law in some way, it will issue a "citation and notification of penalty." This will notify you of the exact violation, set a proposed time period for correcting the violation, and propose a penalty, which is usually a fine.
To learn more about what happens after an inspection, read the OSHA pamphlet Employer Rights and Responsibilities Following an OSHA Inspection, found at OSHA's website at www.osha.gov (look in the publications section).
For more information about employers' obligations under OSHA, as well as how to comply with other federal employment laws, get The Essential Guide to Federal Employment Laws, by Lisa Guerin and Amy DelPo (Nolo).