Safe Working Conditions: Purpose & Concept

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea Rea

Andrea is a practicing attorney and MBA with 15 years experience in health care administration, litigation and business law.

Every year millions of people are injured on the job. Learn more about the laws governing workplace safety and the programs in place to compensate injured workers and their families.

OSHA & Safety Standards

Each year almost three out of every 100 workers will suffer a workplace injury or illness serious enough for them to miss work. That amounts to millions of workplace injuries, countless lost days of work, and billions of dollars every year. Even worse, in 2011 alone, more 4,600 workers were killed on the job. That equals almost 90 workers a week or nearly 13 deaths on the job every day. Given those staggering figures, it's no surprise that the issue of workplace safety is so important for both workers and their employers.

There are many laws governing workplace safety at virtually every level of government, from national and state regulations to local ordinances. These laws are designed to protect employees from unsafe or unhealthy working conditions. The purpose is to reduce the risk of accidental injury, death, or disease in the workplace. Some regulations govern safety standards in specific industries that tend to pose more danger, such as coal mining and railroads. For most workers there are two important sources of workplace safety laws: the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) at the federal level and various workers' compensation laws at the state level.


Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment. The Act requires employers to comply with specific occupational safety and health standards and to keep records of occupational injuries and illnesses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Act. OSHA develops and enforces safety standards, and provides training, outreach, education, and assistance. OSHA has the power to conduct on-site inspections, issue citations, and levy penalties against employers for violations.

Safety Standards

OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. There are standards designed for specific industries such as construction work, agriculture, and maritime operations, and general industry standards that apply to most other worksites. The standards limit the amount of hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to, require the use of certain safety practices and equipment, and require employers to monitor hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Examples of OSHA standards include requirements to provide fall protection, prevent exposure to harmful substances like asbestos, put guards on machines, provide respirators or other safety equipment, and provide training for certain dangerous jobs.

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  • 2:55 Inspections & Safer…
  • 4:22 Worker's Compensation
  • 6:10 Social Responsibility
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Inspections and Safer Working Conditions

OSHA has the power to conduct workplace inspections to make sure that employers are complying with OSHA standards. Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. OSHA inspectors have the right to enter a workplace without notice to examine the work environment, inspect equipment and materials, and to ask questions of employees and management.

Penalties for violations of OSHA standards may include citations, criminal penalties, or substantial fines. These fines can range from no fine for minor violations to several millions of dollars for companies guilty of multiple, repeated, or particularly egregious infractions. Some company executives have even spent time in jail for recklessly endangering workers.

The good news is that occupational safety laws are working. Workplace injuries and deaths have dropped dramatically in the past few decades. Since 1970, workplace fatalities have dropped by more than 65%, and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67%. Deaths are down from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 13 a day in 2011. Worker injuries and illnesses are also down from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to fewer than 4 per 100 in 2010.

Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation is a program that provides medical care, income continuation, and rehabilitation for workers who sustain injuries or illness on the job. Death benefits are also available for family members of workers who suffer work-related deaths.

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