The main statute protecting the health and safety of workers in the workplace is the Occupational and Safety Health Act, which regulates safety and health standards to protect employees and their families. Every private employer who engages in interstate commerce is subject to these regulations.
The act establishes the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. The secretary may authorize inspections of workplaces 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 act also establishes the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to review citations. The commission's decision is subject to judicial review. The secretary may impose fines according to the type of violation and length of non-compliance with the citation. The secretary may seek an injunction to restrain conditions or practices that pose an immediate threat to employees. The act also establishes the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which, under the secretary of health and welfare, conducts research on workplace health and safety and recommends regulations to the secretary of labor. Federal agencies must establish their own safety and health regulations.
Under the act, states are not allowed, without permission of the secretary of labor, to make any laws that regulate an area directly covered by the act’s regulations. They may, however, regulate in areas not governed by the act after submitting a plan for federal approval.
The content on this page was developed in partnership with the Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.