Benchmark Institute is a training and performance development
organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of
legal services to low-income communities.
These laws are designed to eliminate personal injuries and
illnesses from occurring in the workplace. The laws consist primarily of
federal and state statutes. Federal laws and regulations preempt state law
where they overlap or contradict one another.
The main statute protecting the health and safety of workers in the
workplace is the Occupational and Safety Health Act (OSHA)
29 U.S.C.§ 678.
Congress enacted this legislation under its Constitutional grant of
authority to regulate interstate commerce. OSHA requires the Secretary of
Labor to promulgate regulations and safety and health standards to protect
employees and their families. 29 C.F.R. Parts 1901-2200. Every private
employer who engages in interstate commerce is subject to the regulations
promulgated under OSHA.
The Secretary of Labor may authorize workplace inspections to ensure that
regulations are being followed, examine conditions about which complaints
have been filed, and determine what regulations are needed. If an employer
is violating a safety or health regulation a citation is issued.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission reviews DOL citation
orders. The Commission's decision is subject to judicial review. The
Secretary of Labor may impose fines with the amounts varying according to
the type of violation and length of non-compliance with the citation. The
Secretary of Labor may also seek an injunction to restrain conditions or
practices which pose a immediate threat to employees.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, under the
Secretary of Health and Welfare, conducts research on workplace health and
safety and recommends regulations to the Secretary of Labor. The
regulations that have been promulgated under OSHA are extensive, currently
filling five volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations.
States may not promulgate any laws that regulate an area directly covered
by OSHA regulations without permission. States may, however, regulate in
areas not governed by federal OSHA regulations. If they wish to regulate
areas covered by OSHA regulations they must submit a plan for federal
The amount of state regulation varies greatly. California is an example of
a state that has chosen to adopt many of its own regulations in place of
those promulgated under OSHA.
California Occupational Safety and Health Program (CAL/OSHA)
California administers its own workplace safety and health program
pursuant to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The
Act permits states to manage their own occupational safety and health
programs if they meet certain federal requirements. OSHA monitors and
funds Cal/OSHA. California Labor Code Section 6400 requires that employers
provide a safe and healthful place of employment and mandates that
Cal/OSHA certify, insure and inspect workplace safety.
The Department of Industrial Relations administers Cal/OSHA; its
regulations appear at Title 8 California Code of Regulations.
Cal/OSHA promulgates standards to protect worker health and safety
including areas where no comparable federal standards exist. These include
such standards for carcinogenic substances, asbestos, construction,
workplace security (protection from violence from strangers, customers,
clients, coworkers) ergonomics, on-the-job transmission of bloodborne
illness (hepatitis-B and HIV), and lead.
Governing regulations require that workers are entitled to: work in safe
and healthful conditions, be trained in safe work practices, be informed
when exposed to harmful substances, and refuse jobs that violate the law.
Cal/OSHA conducts work site inspections and can issue citations and
penalties for violations of health and safety standards.
Workers may file complaints against employers for unsafe and unhealthful
working conditions. If employers discriminate against workers for
exercising their rights under the law, they may complain to the State
Labor Commissioner within 30 days. The Labor Commissioner may bring action
in court against the employer; relief includes employee rehire,
reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits.