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What Is OSHA Compliance? The Complete OSHA Compliance Checklist

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    OSHA compliance requires most private-sector employers to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Companies that fail to follow OSHA’s guidance could harm their staff, undergo intense inspections and receive costly fines. Read how to strengthen your workplace safety strategy and understand an employer’s primary responsibilities under OSHA.

    An ideal workplace should be as safe as possible. After all, if a company has a history of employee illness and injury, it could have a high turnover track record, too. Even so, health hazards tend to be high in industries like:

    • construction
    • agriculture
    • oil and natural gas
    • waste management
    • law enforcement
    • and more

    But accidents can also happen at seemingly low-risk businesses as well. Thus, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exists to limit danger and ensure safe working environments everywhere through guidance, training and even penalties for failing to maintain OSHA compliance.

    And for good reason. In 2022, businesses in the private sector reported nearly three (2.7) nonfatal work injuries or illnesses for every 100 employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    To help protect your workforce and boost OSHA compliance, let’s explore why the agency exists, tips for HR to help adhere to its rules and specific OSHA-related laws from across the country.

    What is OSHA?

    Established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA is an agency of the federal government that aims to ensure safe and healthy working conditions. OSHA’s main functions involve:

    • enforcing safety standards
    • researching trends
    • educating organizations about potential health hazards

    Most private-sector businesses must maintain OSHA compliance, though certain self-employed, local and state government workers are covered under state law or another federal agency. Notably, federal employees must adhere to OSHA, but they aren’t susceptible to fines for not complying.

    What are OSHA regulations?

    OSHA regulations (aka “OSHA standards”) are the rules and requirements that explain how businesses should protect their employees. OSHA regulations are divided into four categories:

    • general industry
    • construction
    • maritime
    • agriculture

    OSHA regulations also help limit potentially harmful noise, chemicals and substances an employee may encounter. These rules specify equipment necessities, machine safety mechanisms, safeguards for other tools and more. These regulations also provide training on how employees should properly respond to dangerous situations.

    How do companies stay compliant with OSHA regulations?

    OSHA offers extensive resources to help employers stay compliant, but it’s crucial for organizations to understand how OSHA regulations specifically impact their operations. Ideally, an OSHA-compliant business will:

    • offer regular employee training
    • identify and address any potential workplace hazards early
    • retain and update extensive records of incidents and safety precautions
    • write and regularly review safety policies

    Remember, maintaining OSHA compliance is more important than avoiding fines and penalties. A safe workplace is among the bare minimum requirements a successful organization can provide to its people. Even in industries with high risk, companies owe it to their employees to make their work as safe as possible.

    OSHA compliance checklist for 2024

    OSHA compliance may be vital for most businesses, but that doesn’t mean ensuring it has to be difficult. With the right preparation and awareness of what the law covers, you can establish a plan around OSHA that evolves with your business.

    Consider the following checklist items recommended by The HIPAA Journal as you build and adapt your OSHA compliance strategy.

    General working environment

    A clean and sanitary working environment provides the foundation for an OSHA-compliant organization. This means employees regularly wash their hands and hazardous materials are cleaned and disposed of properly and quickly.

    However, a safe working environment also refers to what can’t be directly seen, too. For example, any workplace should be:

    • properly ventilated
    • well lit
    • shielded from excessive noise
    • dry and temperature controlled (within reason)

    This also includes providing employees with ergonomic equipment to reduce unnecessary strain and discomfort.

    Record-keeping, posting and reporting requirements

    One of OSHA’s primary requirements is the continued recording of compliant behavior and accessibility to the law’s requirements. This includes displaying OSHA’s job safety and health poster in areas where employees can easily view and access it, such as a high-traffic break room or where employees regularly clock in.

    In addition to broad guidance, employers should also post warning signs about potential exposure to hazardous materials or situations. (This could be as simple as posting a wet floor sign after a cleaning.) Organizations should also maintain all employee health and training records in the event of an audit.

    As far as reporting incidents is concerned, employers must report workplace fatalities within eight hours and all other injuries within 24 hours.

    Health and safety strategy

    Organizations should work with HR to develop a health and safety strategy, then designate a leader or specialist to help maintain it.

    While this person may lead the charge in executing and maintaining the program, a health and safety committee should still back them, if possible. (Smaller organizations may only have the head count for one person but should still consider establishing a committee as the organization grows.)

    The person in charge of the strategy should provide regular reports on workplace conditions and develop internal policies and procedures that employees may easily access at any time. This person should also be responsible for recording and responding to employees’ concerns about workplace safety.

    Walking/working surface standards

    Employers should take every precaution necessary to prevent slips and falls at work. These incidents are among the most common and have the potential to occur in virtually every in-person working environment.

    OSHA maintains its own checklist for this purpose, but organizations should identify the unique walking hazards specific to their facilities. It should also be noted that certain industries, like health care, have separate OSHA requirements to prevent slips and falls.

    Medical standards

    Organizations should employ at least one person who is qualified to administer first aid. Additionally, employees should have access to fully stocked first-aid kits. The same is true for eyewash stations and sinks in the event of a chemical spill or other hazard.

    When dialing 911, companies must use a form of communication that automatically provides location information to emergency responders. If this technology isn’t feasible, companies must prominently display their workplace’s latitude and longitude information so a caller may immediately provide it when calling.

    Electrical standards

    OSHA provides standards for all electrical equipment and wiring —computers, copiers, heavy machinery and more. Fortunately, most equipment employers can purchase is designed with OSHA requirements in mind. Even so, that doesn’t mean those protections can’t deteriorate over time or that risk isn’t present, especially in older buildings.

    Employers must have their facilities checked extensively for:

    • wiring issues
    • insulation breaks
    • short circuits
    • exposed wiring

    Unchecked, these factors could fracture OSHA compliance and even violate other similar laws.

    Hazard communication standard

    All hazardous materials should be labeled in tandem with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard Safety Data Sheets. These hazards must be properly labeled, and employees must be made aware of them in detail. Health care employers — especially those with labs — should take an even more extensive approach to labeling potential hazards.

    Keep in mind that OSHA isn’t the only agency that sets standards for labeling hazardous materials. The Environmental Protection Agency also maintains guidance around the disposal and communication of certain chemicals.

    Bloodborne pathogens standard

    Businesses that operate in an environment with a risk of bloodborne pathogens must attempt to limit exposure and address incidents with appropriate safety procedures. This also includes measures for disposing of waste materials and items exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

    At the same time, employers must train their staff on how to properly respond to exposure events. This could involve:

    • video tutorials
    • simulations
    • exposure-response scenarios
    • and more

    Health care employees may receive refresher training on bloodborne pathogen protocol for free, per the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act.

    Personal protective equipment standards

    OSHA requires businesses to develop policies to prevent safety incidents and provide employees with protective equipment, including:

    • face masks
    • eyewear
    • gowns and aprons
    • gloves

    These materials must be readily available anywhere there is a reasonable risk of harm or exposure. This equipment should also be reliable and fit comfortably enough for an employee to wear for extended periods.

    Workers should also be trained on how to wear, use and care for this equipment, which should also be regularly examined to ensure its reliability.

    Fire prevention standards and exit routes

    Employers must do everything possible to protect their staff from a fire. OSHA recommends regular fire drills, a clear disaster response plan and ensuring the local fire department is familiar with the workplace and its potential fire hazards.

    Fire escapes should also be clearly marked and tested to ensure they don’t fail when they’re needed most. These exits should be unobstructed and easy for any employee to access. At the same time, portable fire extinguishers and fire safety systems like sprinklers should be regularly tested and inspected.

    Radiation standards

    Employers in industries that regularly use X-ray and diagnostic imaging equipment must maintain strict safety protocols. Employees must always be informed of when this equipment is in use and where it’s operating. Additionally, these tools must be clearly marked with labels that explain they emit ionized radiation.

    Keep in mind that states may enforce their own regulations around equipment that produces radiation, as well as the handling of radioactive materials. Make sure you understand which of your tools (if any) fall under this categorization and the exact requirements of any local or state laws.

    Which employers are covered by OSHA?

    OSHA compliance applies to most private-sector employers regardless of their head count. This also applies to employers in every state, including Washington, D.C. and U.S. jurisdictions, but excluding:

    • self-employed workers
    • immediate working family members of agricultural business owners
    • workers whose hazards are regulated by another agency, such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration

    Similarly, if a state’s health and safety program exceeds the OSHA standard, those requirements must be followed instead. (Think of it similar to how a state’s hourly minimum wage may exceed the federal requirement.)

    While OSHA doesn’t technically cover state and local governments, they must still adhere to state and local laws, including those guided by an OSHA-approved state program. OSHA compliance also applies to federal agencies, though they understandably can’t receive a federal fine. Even so, OSHA still monitors and responds to federal employees’ complaints involving possible violations.

    In which states does OSHA compliance apply?

    OSHA compliance applies to covered employers in every state. However, some states may enact their own requirements that set a higher standard than OSHA regulations.

    Consider the following states and their requirements as you prepare your workplace safety policies.

    State plans covering private, state and local governments

    As of 2024, the following 21 states and one U.S. territory maintain OSHA-approved plans that dictate safety standards for private, state and local government employers:

    • Alaska
    • Arizona
    • California
    • Hawaii
    • Indiana
    • Iowa
    • Kentucky
    • Maryland
    • Michigan
    • Minnesota
    • Nevada
    • New Mexico
    • North Carolina
    • Oregon
    • Puerto Rico
    • South Carolina
    • Tennessee
    • Utah
    • Vermont
    • Virginia
    • Washington
    • Wyoming

    States that maintain these plans may be eligible for federal funding for up to 50% of the operational costs for their agencies.

    State plans that only cover local and state governments

    Six states and one U.S. territory currently have OSHA-approved plans that only apply to local and state government employees:

    • Connecticut
    • Illinois
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Jersey
    • New York
    • Virgin Islands

    Private-sector employers in these locations are still covered under OSHA’s jurisdiction.

    Federal OSHA states

    All other states that don’t maintain their own plan are considered federal OSHA states. Instead, OSHA covers these states in their entirety. Any change in the federal law also influences these states’ safety and health standards unless otherwise specified by another industry-specific agency.

    Employee rights under OSHA

    OSHA grants employees myriad rights under the law, including the ability to identify hazards without the fear of retaliation from their employers. In fact, OSHA maintains a whistleblower procedure for individuals who want to maintain anonymity when filing a complaint.

    Additional employee rights under OSHA include:

    • access to safety training and work-related injury and illness records
    • safe and reliable equipment
    • gloves, visors and other safety equipment
    • protection from toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials
    • the ability to view the results of tests and inspections for workplace

    Employer responsibilities under OSHA

    Employers have several responsibilities under OSHA, all of which serve the same purpose: to provide a safe workplace. These obligations are extensive, but the key requirements include:

    • examining workplace conditions to ensure OSHA compliance
    • displaying color-coded posters, labels and signs to inform employees of potential hazards
    • establishing and updating safety procedures
    • administering regular safety training to all employees
    • reporting all workplace injuries and fatalities to the nearest OSHA office in a timely manner
    • retaining records of all workplace incidents, responses and protocols

    For a more extensive list of an employer’s OSHA responsibilities, visit the agency’s official website.

    OSHA enforcement

    OSHA enforces its regulations and standards through several methods, though inspections tend to be the most consistent and pivotal to preventing incidents before they happen. OSHA has also streamlined the process for employees to file a complaint, which they then use to inform further investigations.

    Consider these two methods OSHA uses to enforce its requirements.


    OSHA inspections are rarely planned externally. In fact, the element of surprise is what allows the agency to catch violations in motion, rather than giving a questionable employer a chance to temporarily adjust their regular practices.

    Typically, a complaint either from an employee or a concerned individual will trigger an inspection, which is then scheduled based on its priority. After an OSHA inspector arrives, they usually:

    • tour the workplace
    • observe and document working conditions
    • ask leaders questions and interview workers
    • examine required OSHA records

    Finally, if an investigator uncovers any issues, they will host a conference with company leaders to discuss violations, solutions and a date by which the company must rectify any issues.


    OSHA penalties vary based on severity and are calculated based on a number of factors, including severity, negligence and the number of affected workers. In 2024, OSHA raised its maximum penalties to:

    • $16,131 for serious and other-than-serious violations
    • $16,131 per day beyond the deadline to address a violation
    • $161,323 for willful and repeated violations

    If you’re uncertain if something in your workplace compromises your organization’s OSHA compliance, consult a licensed legal professional.

    How does the right HR software support OSHA compliance?

    Maintaining strong OSHA compliance doesn’t have to be a meticulous ordeal. In fact, many of the law’s intensive reporting requirements — such as for the 300 and 301 work-related illnesses and injury reports — are simplified with a reliable government and compliance tool.

    Invest in a single software that:

    • helps you mitigate exposure with a detailed dashboard for managing incident reports
    • monitors legislation and updates that could affect your business
    • generates reports in government-required formats

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn more about compliance, HR strategy and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.