Which Law Do I Follow — Federal or State?
When OSHA was passed, it preempted all state occupational safety and health laws. Each state then had the option of submitting a plan to the Secretary of Labor for approval. If the secretary found the plan acceptable, then the state’s law was allowed to stand. In these states, called “state plan states,” employers must follow the state’s laws, regulations, and standards on workplace health and safety, not the federal OSHA.
So Which One Do I Follow?
The state plan states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York also have workplace safety laws, but they cover state and local government employees only. Private employers must still follow the federal law.
If your business operates in one of the state plan states listed above, you can find information about your state’s laws and resources on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, at www.osha.gov (look for State Occupational Safety and Health Plans).
If your business does not operate in one of the states listed above, then you must follow the federal OSHA regulations.
OSHA does not, however, cover independent contractors or family members of a farm operator.
Advice from the Experts
Stephen D. Phillips, the founder of Phillips Law Offices, advises that it is very important that small business owners carefully understand and follow the applicable laws when dealing with workplace health and safety issues. It is vital for workplace safety, the protection of the business and the employee.
OSHA requires covered employers to maintain a workplace that is free of hazards that they know, or should know about, and that are causing, or are likely to cause death or serious physical injury. These are called “recognized hazards.”
OSHA requires you to provide tools and equipment that are in safe working condition. It also requires you to adequately train and supervise employees. And it requires you to provide specific safety equipment when necessary.
Your responsibility to provide a safe working environment extends beyond the four walls of your office building, warehouse, or factory. Wherever you send people to do work must be reasonably safe, even if the work takes place at a construction or demolition site miles away.
It Doesn’t Stop There
Your obligations under OSHA don’t stop with maintaining a safe work environment. You must also meet certain reporting requirements, posting requirements, and recordkeeping requirements, and you must submit to OSHA inspections. For example, you must report fatal accidents to OSHA within eight hours of their occurrence. You must post an OSHA poster informing workers of their rights and obligations under the law. You must also keep records of your efforts to comply with the law and to prevent injuries and illnesses.
If your employees use a company vehicle for assigned company business, whether a car or a truck, you need to keep a copy of their current driver’s license on record. In many states, if an employee is involved in an accident involving a company vehicle, and their license is expired or compromised in some way, your insurance rates may skyrocket, or you may be denied any further insurance coverage on your vehicles. Motor vehicle fatalities in the United States for 2014 were over 33 thousand. Don’t kid yourself that that kind of thing can’t happen to your employees.
Keep Your HR People Trained & Certified
In a very small business you may be all the HR staff there is. But whoever you have doing it, state laws often mandate that your HR people receive continuing and documented training. Many of these courses are held at local community colleges, or can be taken online.