What You Need to Know About OSHA Compliance

By The GoCanvas Team on May 7, 2021
Tags: Data Collection

site manager filling out OSHA compliance forms on tablet

Worker safety has long been a priority among employers, workers, unions, and other stakeholders. However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought mainstream attention to this issue and shed light on a largely obscure agency known as OSHA. OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and is a U.S. Department of Labor’s agency responsible for ensuring workplace safety. Established in 1971 as a provision of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (the OSH Act) a year earlier, OSHA sets workforce safety standards for private employers and the federal government and conducts training to help employers ensure OSHA compliance.

Despite its half-century history, OSHA’s standards and compliance requirements remain unfamiliar to many employers and even many human resources professionals. Yet noncompliance can not only result in stiff penalties, but compromise worker safety, damage corporate reputations, and elicit expensive litigation.


OSHA Standards

Broadly, the OSH Act requires certain employers to provide a safe workplace to workers under the parameters of the law and OSHA standards and regulations. Section 5 of the act includes a “general duty clause,” which holds that covered employers must not only provide a safe workplace but must keep abreast with best safety practices for their industry and establishment. Further, employers must provide personal protective equipment when workers are expected to work in unsafe conditions.

OSHA may act under the general duty clause when covered employers know that a correctable hazard exists of which an employer is aware (or should be aware) and which could cause serious harm or death. To ensure employers are aware of what conditions may constitute a correctable and dangerous hazard, OSHA has established many general and industry-specific safety rules and regulations by which employers must abide. 


Compliance and employer responsibilities

Covered employers must remediate workplace safety deficiencies while continuously working to mitigate new and emerging workplace risks. As per the OSHA website, employers must:

  • “Develop and implement a written hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and proper precautions.”
  • “Provide safety training in a language, and vocabulary workers can understand.”
  • “Use color codes, posters, labels or signs to warn employees of potential hazards.”
  • “Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster informing employees of their rights and responsibilities.”
  • “Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.”

Section 8 grants OSHA the authority to perform health and safety inspections at any covered employer’s worksite. If a worksite is found to violate OSHA’s health and safety standards, the employer must remediate the violation and may be subject to penalties. Further, the employer must post any OSHA citations where the violation occurred until it has been remediated or for three working days, whichever is longer.

Section 8 of the OSH Act further establishes a covered employer’s legal reporting responsibilities, mandating employers to keep illness and injury records stemming from incidents that have occurred on-site or as a result of work performed on-site. Employers are further obligated to provide access to employee medical records and injury logs open request. They must also report workplace fatalities or worksite incidents that result in three or more hospitalizations to OSHA within eight hours.



OSHA inspections may be programmed or unprogrammed. Programmed inspections involve randomly selecting several employers to audit within an industry to ensure that their worksites are in compliance. Unprogrammed inspections are typically initiated through employee outreach to the agency. Workers whose employers are covered by the OSH Act may seek an OSHA inspection themselves and participate in any subsequent investigation. (Employers may not retaliate against any worker for exercising these rights as per Section 11(c) of the OSH Act).

OSHA inspectors (or compliance officers) typically perform a good deal of due diligence before coming on site. They usually do not provide advance notice of their inspections, with certain limited exceptions. But when an OSHA inspector does arrive, they will first share with the employer the reason for their arrival during a pre-inspection opening conference.

The inspector will typically conduct a physical walk-through of the premises, allowing one employer representative to accompany them. The inspector will also normally review all employee safety notices and training materials, as well as illness and injury records. After these reviews, the OSHA inspector will meet with the employer’s representatives to discuss the inspector’s findings and any necessary corrective measures that must be taken.



If a worksite is found to be out of compliance with OSHA standards, the agency will issue citations and fines. An OSHA citation must be made within six months of the violation’s observed occurrence and will include:

  • The nature of the violation
  • The severity of the violation
  • Penalties for the violation
  • A deadline for corrective action

However, if an inspection has resulted in proposed citations and fines, employers do have the opportunity to meet with the OSHA Area Director for their region. The agency leverages penalties to ensure OSHA compliance more so than for punitive reasons. So if employers without extensive histories of violations are making good faith efforts to remediate safety issues, some leeway concerning penalties and remediation timeframes may be found during such a meeting.

Employers may also appeal any penalties within 15 days of receipt of the violations. Appeals are reviewed by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for a final judgment.


Safety Best Practices

OSHA encourages all employers, covered or not, to develop their own workplace safety and health plan that minimally complies with OSHA standards and any relevant state or local-level workplace safety laws or ordinances. Doing so can help covered employers keep workers safe and avoid OSHA violations, penalties, and expensive remediation costs.

Through its national network of OSHA Training Institute Education Centers, the agency also conducts training on various workplace safety issues so that employers can learn how to comply with new OSHA regulations, address emerging hazards, and strengthen their internal programs. Employers can and should take advantage of these training opportunities, as well as participate in OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program. This program provides small and midsize businesses with free strategic safety advice from OSHA representatives, which can help them avoid accidents, high mediation costs, and OSHA violations at inspection.


SHARP Certification

An additional advantage of participating in the On-Site Consultation Program is that if an employer is found to have established an exemplary health and safety program, they may be eligible for SHARP certification. SHARP, which stands for Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program, is a recognition that not only distinguishes an employer from their industry peers. SHARP-certified employers are exempt from being randomly inspected for a programmed inspection for two years.

However, it is important to note that SHARP-certified employers must remain in compliance with all applicable safety standards during their certification period. Employers may still face unprogrammed inspections if an employee reports one or more hazards and reaches out to the agency to request an OSHA inspection.


Safety Training and Education

Employers and employees often believe that OSHA provides additional certification. It does not. However, workers who complete basic worker safety training in specific industries provided by OSHA-authorized trainers may receive an OSHA card certifying completion. These trainings include:

  • Construction (10 or 30 hours)
  • General Industry (10 or 30 hours)
  • Maritime (10 or 30 hours)
  • Disaster Site (15 hours)

Employers who provide their employees access to this training may benefit from a workforce more dedicated to safe practices, identifying and remediating hazards, and lower injury and illness rates.

OSHA’S website also offers training materials covering everything from best practices to training. There’s even a “$afety Pays” program online that can help employers assess the cost savings they will realize by implementing best practices in worker safety at their facilities.

Employers and HR staff should thoroughly review these materials, especially the recordkeeping and reporting requirements, as failing to keep complete records are a frequent source of OSHA violations. The website features the required forms and instructions available for download. However, employers who use these printed forms risk misplacement, illegible entries, or other similar issues garnering them an OSHA citation.

Rather than risking OSHA citations and fines by using paper forms, employers should rely on digitized versions of these forms that can be updated and stored electronically. GoCanvas specializes in creating these forms in use by various employers across industries. Our GoCanvas Safety package provides you with the safety forms and customization options you need to manage your reporting and compliance requirements in the field. Employees can securely record necessary safety information on mobile devices that you can access in real-time, as well as sort, share, and analyze.

With a graphics-rich dashboard, you’ll be able to easily identify potential hazards before they result in an injury, illness, or OSHA citation. And with robust customization options, you can tailor pre-built safety forms to your specific reporting needs or workflows. Or you can design your own entirely. By improving their reporting tools and processes, GoCanvas customers have reduced their risk by 18 percent. Don’t wait until an OSHA inspector shows up in your parking lot to strengthen your recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Try GoCanvas for free today.