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What Does OSHA Do?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency charged with securing the health and safety of 130 million workers in the United States - a daunting task. The federal agency partners with similar state-level agencies, such as the New York State Department of Labor, Division of Safety and Health (DOSH).

OSHA is a small agency. Even with the addition of state-level partners, there is only one compliance officer for every 59,000 workers. The result is that there are just too few inspectors and too many job sites - around eight million - to be able to proactively inspect every worksite on a regular basis. The agency relies on the cooperation of individual workers and employers, labor union and industry groups to strengthen its efforts to make work safe in the United States.

Federal OSHA operates from 10 regional offices and 90 local offices. In New York City, for example, there are offices in Queens and Manhattan. New York is a little different from some other states. Federal OSHA operates an occupational safety and health program for private sector employees only; federal, state and local governmental employees in New York are covered by DOSH.

In addition to inspecting worksites and providing safety programs for a wide range of industries, OSHA keeps statistics about worker illnesses, injuries and deaths. Some examples from 2013 statistics illustrate the kind of information that OSHA can provide:

  • 4,405 workers killed on the job
  • 85 workers per week killed on the job
  • 12 workers per day killed on the job
  • Hispanic or Latino workers experience more fatal injuries than other group
  • Contractors accounted for 17 percent of all fatal workplace injuries in 2013
  • One in five worker deaths in 2013 were in the construction sector
  • Falls were the leading cause of death in the construction industry

OSHA also keeps statistics about the kinds of violations found by inspectors when they go out in the field. In order of frequency, the top violations in 2013 were:

  • Failure to provide appropriate fall protection in the construction industry
  • Failure to communicate information about workplace hazards
  • Failure to erect, employ and dismantle scaffolding according to established standards in the construction industry
  • Failure to provide appropriate respiratory protection
  • Failure to adequately train employees performing electrical work or require them to use safe wiring methods
  • Failure to train or require safe use of industrial trucks
  • Failure to use approved ladders or deploy them correctly in the construction industry
  • Failure to require use of established lockout/tagout procedures to control hazardous energy
  • Failure to design electrical systems correctly or faulty electrical systems
  • Failure to install or require use of approved machinery guards

Despite its limited resources, OSHA does make a difference. Since 1970, when the agency was established, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more the 65 percent; workplace injuries and illnesses have declined by a similar level. These means that 12 workers die on the job each day, compared to 38 worker fatalities daily in 1970.