Most employers know that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires covered employers to provide a safe workplace for employees. To prove that you're in compliance—and ensure that employees know their workplace safety rights—your company must meet a number of paperwork and reporting requirements. Employers that 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.
Employers must keep records of work-related deaths and serious work-related injuries or illnesses. These records must be kept for five years. However, employers with ten or fewer employees and employers in certain low-hazard industries are exempt from these requirements. 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:
However, employers are not required to report deaths that happen more than 30 days after the work-related incident or hospitalizations, eye losses, or amputations that happen more than 24 hours after the work-related incident.
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 www.osha.gov and select "Regional and Area Offices" under "About OSHA."
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 every year.
You can obtain an OSHA poster from the agency's website at www.osha.gov (under "News and Publications," select "Publications"). 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. 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 Sachi Barreiro (Nolo).