The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly referred to as OSHA, is a government body established in 1971 by the United States Congress. Its primary responsibilities include regulating health and safety protocols for employee well-being, improving working conditions by enforcing the successful application of workplace laws, along with providing training, assistance, and education to both employees and employers. One of the main goals of OSHA is to minimize accidents, therefore reducing fatality rates and improving worker safety.
What Does OSHA Do?
In accordance with the workplace environment, OSHA decides which rules and standards best suit a company and implement those rules. Workers and employers undergo appropriate training to ensure that they follow certain rules. These sessions typically cover the processes, tools, and training that will help mitigate the risk of accidents and enforce safety standards that align with industry needs.
OSHA also oversees and regulates the work environment to hold employers accountable in the case a regulation is not adhered to. When employers violate an employee's right to health or safety, the employee may lodge a complaint with OSHA who will then conduct a thorough inspection of the workplace to find any evidence of an unhealthy or unsafe working environment. Besides accountability, OSHA is also responsible for identifying the underlying causes of job-related accidents and fatalities.
To closely follow OSHA standards, employers are required to take different actions, such as regularly inspecting the workplace for potential safety hazards and giving employees adequate training that will help them identify and prevent any such issues. Employees are expected to wear protective gear and report any safety concerns as well as job-related accidents and diseases. When an employer is found guilty of violating OSHA standards or ignoring serious hazards, they could be subject to fines and citations. A citation involves procedures that an employer will use to rectify a problem that was identified and the date by which it will complete the correction. They also have a right to refute the citation, provided they present strong evidence that the violation actually doesn’t exist. On the other hand, employees have the right to question the deadline by which the issue should be resolved. Citation appeals are presented to the Independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).
Who Does OSHA Protect?
OSHA protection coverage extends to the majority of private-sector workers as well as public-sector employees and employers. In the case of the latter, OSHA cannot penalize a federal agency. Self-employed individuals and farm-owning family members who do not hire nonfamily employees are excluded from the coverage. All 50 states, along with other US territories, benefit from OSHA, although states can have their own federally recognized health and safety programs. These programs are known as state plans and are required to have rules that are as strict as those of OSHA.
OSHA protects job sectors that include, but are not limited to, electrical engineering, maritime work, hospital operations, and construction jobs, amongst others.
OSHA and Electricity
Electricity is one of the most important components of any workplace, one that is also deemed very dangerous. OSHA recognizes electricity as a major workplace issue and has therefore developed a set of rules and regulations pertaining to it. These standards are meant to protect workers from common potential risks, such as electric shocks, explosions, fires, and electrocution. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 250 workers died due to electrocution in 2006, while others suffered fatalities in explosions or fires as a result of electricity. OSHA's electrical standards are based on the National Fire Protection Association Standards 70 and 70E and National Electric Code and Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces. Its core focus involves the design and operation of electrical systems and equipment.
Regulations not only cover exposed components of an electrical installation, like machines, lighting, switches, enclosures, and controls, but also their production and installation. The standards also require companies to have their equipment and processes approved by specific OSHA-certified testing organizations to ensure safety in the workplace. Electrical engineering companies and companies dealing with electricity must make sure that they satisfy OSHA's Electrical Safety-related Work Practices Standard, which covers rules related to working near or on electrical equipment, the use of protective gear, and the correct use of electric tools. To successfully meet these requirements, companies must pay close attention to the following:
- Examination, installation, and correct use of equipment
- Proper identification of disconnecting circuits and conductors
- Appropriate guarding of live parts, the polarity of connections, and grounding paths
If OSHA finds the employer is in violation of certain regulations, the company in question is subjected to heavy fines. The most commonly violated OSHA regulations in electrical systems are found in these specific areas:
- Incorrect wiring methods and placement. Many companies use temporary wiring, extension cords, or flexible cords that are unsuitable for an industrial setting and can prove to be injurious.
- General violations of safety protocols. For instance, usage of unapproved electrical equipment, failure to install and maintain tools as per manufacturer’s instructions, working in small areas, and many others.
- This phenomenon indicates the failure to stop the release of dangerous energy while electrical technicians perform service or maintenance. Proper disabling of equipment should be done by an authorized worker by placing locks on machinery and equipment. Tags must also be placed on these locks so that other employees can know when their co-workers are engaged in work.
OSHA provides a safety checklist to electrical companies that require the following actions to ensure safety:
- Training workers on electrical safety
- Properly grounding machines and electrical tools and double-insulating them
- Checking all power tools, cords, and extensions for damage and wear
- Maintaining a proper distance from overhead electric lines
- Ensuring proper lockout and tag-out of electrical equipment
- Providing proper protective gear to workers and ensuring that they are regularly maintained and worn
How MTA Can Help
Maintaining health and safety at the workplace is integral for any organization to avoid potential hazards, boost productivity, increase employee morale and avoid legal action by government agencies. To make sure your safety standards meet OSHA requirements, Mark Thomas & Associates Electrical Engineers is ready to help. With an array of electrical engineering services in California, such as electrical system tests, short circuit analysis, and arc flash studies, we can assist you in following safety regulations with ease. Contact us today for more information.