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Federal OSHA May Not be Enforcing the Rules for Your Employees    

By:  Chris A Hall, CHST

Everyone assumes that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace safety in the United States, but in many cases the enforcement authority does not fall to OSHA alone.  A multitude of other agencies have been provided the ability to keep workers safe through federal statutes, acts and agreements. This discussion intentionally excludes private businesses which may be exempt altogether. 

To clarify where the work falls from a jurisdictional perspective, first let’s look at two federal agencies that manage safety on their sites.  The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have memorandums of understanding, giving authority to the respective agencies. This allows DOE and NRC to manage all employees and contractors operating under their direction.  The agencies do not enforce regulations at sites which are leased to private contractors or DOE sites not affiliated with the Atomic Energy Act.  For these locations, federal or state-approved programs maintain authority. 

Other agencies, such as the Department of Transportation (DOT), govern safety as it effects the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles on the road. Employers are still required to also follow OSHA standards in their workplaces. 

Mining work is regulated by an entirely different group within the Department of Labor.  MSHA, or the Mine Safety and Health Administration, has authority over employers and contractors on surface and underground mining through an interagency agreement with OSHA.  This provides MSHA the authority over mining sites, but allows them to utilize OSHA standards when their own regulations may not be specific to the hazards presented. 

Now that we’ve determined that the work will fall under OSHA, let’s move on to one of the easier concepts to understand, state-run agencies.  States are permitted to manage health and safety as long as they establish the ability and conform to OSHA’s approval process.  Each state must meet the minimum requirements put in place to ensure that enforcement on the state level is at least as effective as that on the federal level.  State-run programs are permitted to write their own regulations as long as they meet the minimum standards outlined in the federal rules.  Some states choose to go beyond the federal enforcement initiatives with more specific rules. Twenty-one states and Puerto Rico currently manage their own health and safety rules under Federal OSHA’s approval.  With this enforcement, state- run programs also cover state and local public sector employees.  In some states, OSHA still enforces the private sector rules while the states themselves have agencies mandated to manage safety on the state and local level.  Six other states, such as Illinois, use their authority under approved plans to manage state and local public employees. 

Another example of other agencies with rulemaking and enforcement authority is the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB).  The agreement permits a more effective working relationship to establish guidelines and promote safe work practices in areas regulated by the DOB.  Cities like New York and Chicago have specific scaffolding regulations due to the higher prevalence of large scaffolding systems and working at extreme elevations. 

In all instances, employers and contractors must be aware of which agencies regulate safety for their workplace. Hazard identification and abatement still comprise the foundation of all of these agencies managing health and safety regulation under their jurisdiction, but remember, in many cases this authority passes for more stringent regulations, not less. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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