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OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency charged with the responsibility of making sure that workers in the United States have safe and free from hazard environments. It is permitted by law to come up with and enforce safety regulations in the work place and also provide employers with necessary information and training in order for them to be in compliance. While enforcement is a vital part of what is done by OSHA, the agencies main mission is to prevent injuries that occur at the work place. Work places that are free from occupational hazards benefits everyone and therefore OSHA takes upon itself to provide owners of businesses with the needed tools in preventing safety problems from causing serious effects. These initiatives have realized many effects by OSHA to many work places in the United States. This research will look at the effects that have been impacted by OSHA in the working place (MacLaury p 1).
The Effects of OSHA in the Workplace
The right thing for any business to do is to protect the safety and health of its workers. If this is done then it will go a long way to help the business to save money and also add value to the business. Those businesses with healthy workers have low or fewer experiences of workers' compensations in terms of insurance costs reduced medical expenditure levels and also have lower disability income programs. Manufacturers on the other hand will see few faulty products, reduced costs for job accommodations for those workers who are injured, and increased morale in workers and therefore increased productivity. OSHA comes in by making sure that every party that is involved is comfortable with the conditions by ensuring that its laws are strictly followed, and this is where its effects are felt (Schumacher 1).
To effectively make sure that employers handle their employees in a more humane manner, OSHA has set up rules and regulations that must be strictly adhered to, to ensure that workplaces are safe and secure. Failure to do this will lead to fines and court injunctions as the law provides. The law encourages each and every worker to be an active player in his or her safety and health efforts in the workplace. This law gives the worker the right to;
Information- employers have an obligation legally to inform their employees about the OSHA safety and health standards that apply to their work place. They should establish a comprehensive written hazard communication program that ensures that employees working with or near hazardous materials are informed about them and therefore given proper protection. They should notify their employees and OSHA about any variance in the OSHA Act.
Access records and test results- employers must inform their workers of the existence, availability and location of their medical and also exposure records at the start of employment and then followed regularly. Employees have a right to observe tests carried out and examine the result's records. Workers have a right to promote workplace safety, have rights during the inspection process, right to protection from retaliation; these are governed by various acts under OSHA. Employers who violate any of these rights have to face charges. For instance IN 2004 OSHA issued a rule requiring all employers to pay for personal protective equipments (PPE) that are used in compliance with the OSHA regulation standards. These include equipments such as gloves, hard hats, goggles, welding helmets, face shields, and safety shoes. The rule makes employers to be the supposed providers of the protective gadgets to their workers. They are not limited in the payment method they will choose provided they avail the equipments to their employees at no cost. Data showed that this was much felt by small businesses and high turnover industries than the large businesses (McCown1).
In February SeaWorld Orlando was fined $75,000 for the death of a killer whale trainer. OSHA cited the theme park for three violations one of them was classified as having been willful Dawn Brancheau death. Dawn who was 40 years old died when the whale dragged her by her ponytail into the killer whale tank. A willful citation was issued by OSHA for exposing employees to struck-by and drowning hazards in their interaction with killer whales. SeaWorld new about the inherent risk of allowing its trainers to interact with animals that are potentially dangerous, but just went ahead to allow them to work within pools, on ledges and on shelves where they were subjected to dangerous behavior by the animals. Another violation was cited for exposing workers to a fall hazard by the company failing to install a stairway railing system on bridge of the show stage. The third violation touched on the outdoor electrical receptacles. The company was given 15 days to appeal (VinZant p 1).
Another company that has faced the wrath of OSHA's regulations is the Bradner Company. OSHA cited American Warming and Ventilating Inc. in Bradner with a penalty of $55,500 for allegations of repeated serious violations of workplace safety and health standards. Due to the company's high rate in injuries and illnesses as compared to the national rates, OSHA initiated an inspection after which six violations were issued for lacking proper protection equipment, improper electrical tag out and lock out procedures to prevent accidental energization start up, lacking proper machine guarding, lacking proper training for maintenance personnel on power press equipment, lack of eye protection during welding, and damaged welding conductors. OSHA also issued two repeat violations to the company for failing to provide its workers with proper machine guarding and to provide workers with approved electrical protective equipment. OSHA also recently cited Marcum Transporters for more 30 safety violations in its operations in Verdunville, Logan County. The company faces proposed penalties of about $73,500. The company was cited for 34 alleged violations, 33 of these are seen as very serious and include obstructed exit routes, machine guarding that is improper and electrical hazards and the rest are to do with record keeping. The company was given 15 days to contest these allegations (Associated press 1).
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In 2009 safety flaws were found to exist at MillerCoors in its Golden plant. OSHA cited 10 alleged safety violations following the death of a worker and two others injured following two accidents at the Golden plant. Investigations showed one alleged willful accident and nine serious violations of the OSHA regulations that govern electrical hazards. OSHA learned that poor workplace conditions led to burning of two employees by an electrical arch flash. Inadequate safety measures were also cited for the failure to protect workers against electrical hazards. A fine of $128,500 in penalties for the violations was proposed by OSHA (Pankratz H. p1).
Another $16.6 million in fines has been proposed by OSHA against companies that have been involved in a deadly power blast in Connecticut. According to OSHA the fines are due to 371 alleged safety and workplace violations at Kleen Energy Systems, the power plant that exploded in Middletown on 7th February. These fines are said to be the third largest in the history of OSHA. Allegedly, common sense procedures required by OSHA were not followed. The largest of the fines is against O&G Industries, the plant's main contractor, six of the plant's workers died in the explosion. The explosion occurred when an unknown cause ignited natural gas and air that had collected in the tight quarters as the workers cleaned the pipes. Criminal charges are also being considered against the companies which have 15 days to either pay or contest the fines (Associated press 1).
In April OSHA notified 15,000 employers that injury and illness rates at their place of work were higher than average. It urged the businesses to seek expert information that might help them address the cause of their poor performance. It also alerted them that they would be subjected to inspection. These employer notifications by OSHA are certainly making employers and businesses operating in the United States to feel the effects of the New OSHA administration. This agency is deliberately concerned with ensuring strict regulatory compliance, identification of hazards, and reduction of workplace injuries. There has been an increase in OSHA activity in recent years as seen through its inspection reports, aggressive issuing of citations, site visits, and National Emphasis Programs for specific industries and programs. Also other notable efforts in stamping its authority have been the large fines and many cases in which OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency of the United States have collaborated in penalizing and pursuing criminal charges against employers together with their management members, who violate workplace laws. To show that OSHA is raring to go even further in its efforts, the US labor department's budget funded 100 new compliance officers and the 2011 budget is asking for even more. It has asked for $14 million more to hire more inspectors and has asked OSHA to transfer many of OSHA's staff currently working on program of compliance assistance into enforcement. These measures have put many employers on their toes because they do not know when OSHA will come knocking (Lucas p 1).
These measures have realized lots improvements in the labour industries in the United States. For instance the preliminary results for the national census of fatal occupational injuries in 2009 showed declining rates of injuries. They showed a preliminary total of 4,340 injuries that were fatal at work, down from 5,214 fatal work injuries that occurred in 2008. This represented the smallest ever annual preliminary totals in fatal occupational injuries since the program was conducted first in 1992. This showed that the rate of fatal work injury among the U.S. workers in the year 2009 was 3.3 per 100,000 full time equivalent workers; this represents a decrease from a rate of 3.7 in 2008. Virtually there was a decline in fatal occupational work injuries in almost all sectors in 2009. This simply implies that business sectors are following the workplace regulations as required by OSHA (BLS 1).
OSHA has over the years been handing fines to companies or businesses that violate the employer-employee relationship rules and laws that are established. The most recent one is the oil company BP, in the year 2007; the company's pipeline spilled 200,000 gallons of crude oil in the wilderness of Alaska, and OSHA fined it $16 million. The company was again involved in two other disasters before the Deepwater Horizon where 30 of its workers were killed and more than 200 seriously injured. Many studies show that the company has been involved in many violations of safety standards set out by OSHA. Such companies which have very horrific safety records, risk being closed because of exposing employees to hazardous workplace conditions (Veneziani 1).
OSHA also penalizes those employers who under report on injuries and illnesses that occur at the workplace. It recently launched an initiative to the same effect that was prompted by the many reports from government showing that many work place injuries and illnesses are not being reported by employers. It has embarked on investigations to identify those workplace practices and policies that have effects that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses that are job related. This is in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which calls on employers to keep and maintain records that are accurate, make reports periodically on work related deaths, illnesses and injuries. OSHA's form 300 is specifically used by employers for this purpose, where each illness or injury that requires medical treatment beyond first aid must be recorded in it. Despite these, reports have shown that many work injuries and illnesses are significantly under reported. They have also discovered that some employer policies and practices discourage workers form reporting injuries fearing to lose their jobs or facing some other disciplinary measures. For example a BP Texas City explosion killed 15 workers but employees did not report the incident to the manager. And because the workers were not encouraged to report, the managers did not therefore investigate the incident. When this was discovered by OSHA, BP was fined $21 million in penalties a figure that was raised to $88 million when it was discovered that there were new violations at the Texas refinery (Melfi 1).
To avoid the issue of underreporting, employers should review, and if need be, modify the existing policies, procedures and practices to make sure that their employees are encouraged to report their illnesses and injuries. They come up with policy statements that assure workers that they will be protected against unlawful retaliations if they make such reports. They should make sure that the incentive programs that exist do not have the unintended consequence of discouraging workers from making injury reports, and if so, then make necessary modifications. And finally they should carry out health and safety audits of the companies' operations to ascertain that all applicable OSHA regulations are followed. In order to ensure that all workplaces are safe and health for human working, OSHA is now pushing for more federal rules that will require companies to count job related musculoskeletal disorders. This will make it easier for officials dealing with safety to prevent injuries of this kind. This is bound to face stiff opposition from business groups because it is feared that it may pave way for regulation to prevent MSDs, which are very common in most of the American factories. Many workers in the US suffer MSDs while on their jobs every year; this is according to the federal statistics (Alexander 1).
Although these efforts may be seen as bullish by many business men and companies, its intentions are well intended and many American workers can smile for the improved working conditions that exist due to these efforts. The many fines and citations will serve to discourage employers from harassing their employees and also encourage employees to work towards safe and healthy workplaces. OSHA should work hand in hand with the US department of labour to enforce these regulations. The recent efforts by the Obama administration should be supported from all sectors of the economy so that the whole country realizes safety and healthy working conditions in the many working places.