OSHA Regulations Apply to Every Workplace
Most Americans associate the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) Act, passed in 1970, with manual laborers; however, OSHA applies to all private employers in some degree. In fact, OSHA regulations even cover employees who conduct their work primarily sitting at a computer in an office environment. Most broadly, the Duties clause of the act requires that employers of office workers “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” (29 USC 654)
Compliance with OSHA in an office environment generally just requires common sense safety protocols. For example, if boxes in an office are stacked so high it blocks fire suppression sprinklers, it would violate OSHA’s fire safety provisions even though OSHA does not specifically regulate how high boxes can be stacked. As another example, OSHA does not regulate the temperature of an office; however, if several employees have heat strokes the employer is not fulfilling their obligation under the Duties clause to create a safe working environment. Some specific topics covered by the Administration that affect employers of office workers are:
Ergonomics – OSHA offers advisory comments on office ergonomics; however, they also make it clear that they will enforce ergonomic hazards that come to their attention under the Duty clause. As part of their advisory efforts, they have produced a 33 question checklist to help employees and employers evaluate the way employees utilize their computer workstations (available at: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/checklist.html), and a pictorial guide for such workers (available at: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/index.html).
Emergency Action Plan – Any employer with more than ten employees must have a written Emergency Action Plan available to employees for review. The Emergency Action Plan must be taught to employees and must contain the following:
Provisions to report an emergency (such as calling 911);
Plan to account for employees after an evacuation;
Procedures for employees performing rescue or medical duties;
An emergency alarm system.
Hazard Communication – If your employees use any hazardous materials, such as glues or cleaning materials, more often than a “normal consumer,” you must create a Hazard Communication. The Hazard Communication (or “HazCom”) must include labeling, safety data sheets, and training regarding workplace hazards.
The US Department of Labor offers several sample policies, sample training programs, and advisory services that any employer can use as a free resource to ensure compliance. Most information is available at their website (www.osha.gov) or via a telephone call to your local branch office.