Kevin Ian Schmidt

OSHA General Duty Clause

As detailed in the Section 5 (The General Duty Clause) of the OSHA Act, the employer is assigned responsibility and held accountable to maintain a safe and healthful workplace. The following is an excerpt from Public Law 91-596, 91st Congress, S. 2193, December 29, 1970.

Section 5

(a) Each Employer –

  • (1) shall 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;

  • (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.

Employers can be cited by OSHA for violation of the General Duty Clause if a recognized serious hazard exists in their workplace and the employer does not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard. The General Duty Clause is used only where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard.

 

OSHA-Mandated Responsibilities

As you can see, employers have clearly defined responsibilities under OSHA, and as the “agent of the employer” the supervisors have the same responsibilities for the employees they supervise. The following list are basic responsibilities stated throughout OSHA standards.

  • Provide employees a workplace free from recognized hazards. It is illegal to retaliate against an employee for using any of their rights under the law, including raising a health and safety concern with you or with OSHA, or reporting a work-related injury or illness.
  • Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.
  • Report to OSHA all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and all inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye within 24 hours.
  • Provide required training to all workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
  • Prominently display this poster in the workplace.
  • Post OSHA citations at or near the place of the alleged violations.

Identifying Hazards

The employer is responsible for identifying hazards. It’s useful to categorize them into four categories:

  • The first three categories (materials, equipment, and the environment) represent hazardous conditions. Hazardous conditions are the surface causes directly account for only a small percentage of all workplace accidents.
  • The fourth category (people) describes employee behaviors. Employee behaviors represent the surface causes that contribute to or cause a higher percentage of workplace accidents.

 They are the root causes that ultimately contribute to or cause most accidents.

Let’s review these four categories:

Materials: liquids, solids and gases that can be hazardous to employees.

  • Liquid and solid chemicals (such as acids, bases, solvents, explosives, etc.) can produce harmful effects.
  • Raw materials (solids like metal, wood, and plastic) used to manufacture products are usually bought in large quantities and can cause injuries or fatalities in many ways.
  • Gases, like hydrogen sulfide and methane, may be extremely hazardous if leaked into the atmosphere.

Equipment: machinery and tools used to produce or process goods.

  • Hazardous equipment that is improperly guarded and places workers in a danger zone around moving parts could cause injury or death.
  • Lack-of a preventive and corrective maintenance will make it difficult to ensure equipment operates properly.
  • Tools that are not in good working order, improperly repaired, or not used for their intended purpose is only an accident waiting to happen.

Environment: general area that employees are working in.

  • Poor facility design, hazardous atmospheres, temperature and/or noise can cause stress.
  • If areas in your workplace are too hot, cold, dusty, dirty, messy or wet, then measures should be taken to minimize the adverse conditions.
  • Extreme noise that can damage hearing should not be present.
  • Workstations may be designed improperly, contributing to an unsafe environment.

People: employees, managers, supervisors, in the workplace.

  • Unsafe employee behaviors include taking short cuts or not using personal protective equipment.
  • Employees who are working while fatigued, under of influences of drugs or alcohol, distracted for any reason, or in a hurry are “walking and working hazards.”

There is one sub-catergory that is often able to be added, especially when building up a safety culture, and that is:

Supervision: this is managers, supervisors, directors, top down issues.

  • Management may unintentionally promote unsafe behaviors. For example, they may ignore unsafe work practices.
  • Inadequate or missing safety plans, programs, policies, processes, procedures, practices, and rules (written and unwritten) may somehow result in injury, illness, or death in the workplace.
  • Not training employees how to work safely
  • Not supplying employees with the right tools for the right job.
Want to learn more about Root Cause Identification? Check out the EHS Center to learn more.

Surface Cause Analysis – Why did the accident occur? Here you determine the unique hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors that interacted to produce the accident. Each of the hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors uncovered are the surface causes for the accident. They give clues that point to possible root causes/system weaknesses. Examples of surface causes include:

  • A broken ladder
  • A worker removes a machine guard
  • A supervisor fails to conduct a safety inspection
  • A defective tool

Root cause analysis – Why did the surface causes occur? At this level, you’re analyzing the weaknesses in the safety management system that contributed to the accident. These weaknesses are inadequate/missing safety components such as policies, programs, plans, processes, procedures, or practices. Examples of root causes include:

  • Inadequate or missing safety management system components.
  • Inadequate performance or failure to carry out system components such as: failure to train, failure to provide PPE, and inadequate implementation of safe procedures.
  • Failure to enforce safety rules, discipline for safety infractions or recognize safe performance.
  • Failure to conduct safety inspections, JHAs, and incident/accident investigations

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