What Are OSHA Regulations?

January 11, 2022

What Are OSHA Regulations?

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations provide directions on how employers should protect their workers from workplace health and safety hazards. OSHA requires employers to monitor potential working risks, limit the number of hazardous chemicals that employees interact with, and keep records of injuries and illnesses in the workplace.


The United States government established the OSHA regulatory agency in 1970, based on one central premise: workers have the right to safe, healthy, and comfortable work environments. OSHA regulations outline employee rights, including the right to participate in OSHA workplace inspections and be able to access work-related illness and injury reports. 

Most importantly, through OSHA, employees maintain the right to make injury claims and safety complaints without discrimination. Regardless of industry, the majority of U.S. employers must comply with the OSH Act General Duty Clause. Industry-specific standards target specific sectors, such as maritime operations and construction works. The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act mandates worker safety regulations to reduce workplace hazards, organizes employee safety training programs, and enforces health and safety inspections. 

Under the OSH Act, employers must:

  • Provide a healthy workplace free of hazards
  • Minimize health and safety hazards
  • Bear the cost of providing employees with adequate protective gear and safeguards against unavoidable workplace dangers
  • Adequately train employees in how to address risks
  • Provide personnel with a list of OSHA injuries and citations and place OSHA posters in everyday view

Employees are encouraged to contact OSHA or their state office regarding unaddressed workplace hazards. In such cases, the agency will inspect the claim before reporting its findings to the employer and employee representatives.

What Are the Three Workers’ Rights?

The OSH Act targets all businesses in the private sector with at least two employees. The three workers’ rights it guarantees are: 

  • Right to Information about Job Hazards: Employees should receive exact information and training regarding inevitable threats involved in the workplace and how to avoid them. They should also receive access to records of workplace injuries and illnesses and be informed on any applicable OSHA standards and laws.
  • Right to File Complaints regarding Workplace Hazards: Employees also have a right to file confidential reports with OSHA and request an inspection of their workplace. They can choose to participate in the requested assessment and receive access to the results after reviews are complete. 
  • Right to Not Receive Discrimination: Employers should not discriminate or retaliate against employees who make inquiries or complaints to OSHA. The statutes enforced by OSHA have whistleblower provisions that protect employees who file complaints with the agency. Employees can also file complaints anonymously.

Who Must Comply with OSHA Regulations? 

OSHA sets health and safety standards for several industries. Those that are particularly impacted by OSHA include construction, healthcare, and maritime operations. But the agency covers the following sectors:

  • Private Sector Employers: Private sector employers in all 50 states and other United States jurisdictions must comply with OSHA regulations. They are regulated by either the federal OSHA or state-approved OSHA programs. OSHA approves, monitors, and funds up to 50 percent of state-approved programs. There are 22 states, including Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming, that have such programs.
  • State and Local Governments: The OSH Act protects workers in states with OSHA-approved state programs. State and local governments also can develop programs that cover only public sector employees following the OSH Act. For example, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, and New York have OSHA-approved programs for public-sector workers only. Private-sector employees in these jurisdictions remain under federal OSHA.
  • Federal Government Agencies: OSHA regulations apply to all federal government agencies. According to OSH Act Section 19, federal agency leaders must ensure their employees have safe and healthy working conditions. OSHA can conduct inspections of national facilities. Federal agencies are required to have health and safety programs with the same standards as private sector employers.

For example, the OSHA Act covers the United States Postal Service as a private-sector employer. OSHA cannot impose fines on federal agencies, as it does on private sector employers. 

Who Is Exempt from OSHA Regulations?

Sectors that are exempt from complying with OSHA regulations include: 

  • Self-employed individuals
  • Farms in which the owner employs immediate family members
  • Facilities regulated by other federal agencies using separate federal statutes (e.g., segments in mining, transportation, and nuclear energy)

Types of OSHA Regulation Violations

OSHA conducts workplace inspections based on employee complaints. Based on these assessments, OSHA may detect violations ranging from minor to hazardous. Six types of OSHA violations invoke penalties, including:

  • De Minimis Violations: These are technical violations that usually have no direct impact on employee health and safety. They are the least severe violations and don’t lead to penalties besides a listing on the case inspection file—for example, a ladder with 13 inches between the rungs instead of the regulated 12 inches.
  • Other-Than-Serious Violations: These violations impact employees’ health and safety but don’t usually cause serious injuries or death. Such a breach can attract a penalty of up to $7,000. An example of an “other-than-serious violation” is failing to provide copies of safety regulations or post required documentation in work areas.
  • Serious Violations: OSHA issues serious violations to employers who know of severe safety hazards but don’t take measures to remedy them. For example, failing to provide workers who carry heavy loads with steel-toe boots is a serious violation with a penalty of up to $7,000.
  • Willful Violations: This is the most severe category, representing an intentional disregard for employee safety and health. The minimum penalty for each willful violation is $5,000 and can go up to $70,000.
  • Repeated Violations: If an inspector cites an employer for a repeated violation, OSHA can fine up to $70,000.
  • Failure to Abate Prior Violation: When issuing a violation citation, OSHA inspectors give timelines by which employers should remedy the situation. Should an employer fail to remedy the situation by the specified date, OSHA can issue a secondary fine. 


OSHA regulations require employers to adopt standard operating procedures that protect workers. Employers should be familiar with applicable rules and know how to minimize or eliminate workplace hazards. Failing to comply with OSHA regulations can result in significant financial penalties. Additionally, employees should know their rights to report safety violations to OSHA. 

Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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