Introduction to OSHA

January 16th, 2021
Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.
Fisher & Phillips LLP


The Occupational Safety and Health Act (the OSH Act) has been the principal force of change acting to reduce work-related injuries, deaths, and diseases of occupational origin in American workplaces. It has led to the issuance of hundreds of safety and standards regulations that affect every type of workplace – from the clerical office, to the industrial plant, to the construction site. The OSH Act and the standards/regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) impose important legal duties and responsibilities upon employers, which must meet or potential liability including significant penalties could result.

The passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act ) was passed by Congress and signed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970, coming into effect on April 28, 1971. The purpose of the OSH Act is stated concisely in its preamble:

“To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the states in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.”

Congress intended that the Act accomplish several important policy objectives, chief among which was to encourage safer and more healthful working conditions by establishing “separate but independent responsibilities and rights” for both employers and employees. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), within the U.S. Department of Labor, was given the task of developing and enforcing workplace health and safety standards, as well as protecting employees who make complaints to their employers regarding safety and health hazards at their worksite. The OSH Act also required the OSHA to create recordkeeping rules with which to evaluate the safety performance of individual employers, industrial sectors, and employers as a whole.

In addition, Congress intended to launch new and expanded research programs in workplace health and safety. Employers have a duty to cooperate with National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) within the Department of Health and Human Services by:

  • providing records maintained under the OSH Act
  • permitting site inspections.

The structure of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

As noted previously, OSHA, created by the OSH Act, exists within the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, who is appointed by the President and approved by the United States Senate, reports to the Secretary of Labor.

Each of the states is within one of 10 OSHA regional offices, each of which has its own Regional Administrator (RA). The territories of these regional offices are further divided into zones covered by “area offices,” which are responsible for most workplace inspections. A list of the regional offices follows:

Region 1
JFK Federal Building
25 New Sudbury Street, Room E340
Boston, MA 02203
Phone: (617) 565-9860
Fax: (617) 565-9827 
States covered: CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT
Region II
Federal Building
201 Varick Street, Room 670
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 337-2378
Fax: (212) 337-2371 
States, territories covered: NJ, NY, PR, VI
Region III
U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA
The Curtis Center, Suite 740 West
170 S. Independence Mall West
Philadelphia, PA 19106-3309
Phone: (215) 861-4900
Fax: (215) 861-4904 
States covered: DC, DE, MD, PA, VA, WV
Region IV
Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Room 6T50
Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: (678) 237-0400
Fax: (678) 237-0447 
States covered: AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN
Region V
John C. Kluczynski Federal Building
230 South Dearborn Street, Room 3244
Chicago, IL 60604
Phone: (312) 353-2220
Fax: (312) 353-7774 
States covered: IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI
Region VI
A. Maceo Smith Federal Building
525 Griffin Street, Suite 602
Dallas, TX 75202
Phone: (972) 850-4145
Fax: (972) 850-4149 
States covered: AR, LA, NM, OK, TX
Region VII
Two Pershing Square Building
2300 Main Street
Suite 1010
Kansas City, MO 64108-2416
Phone: (816) 283-8745
Fax: (816) 283-0547 
States covered: IA, KS, MO, NE
Region VIII
Cesar Chavez Memorial Building
1244 Speer Boulevard, Suite 551
Denver, CO 80204
Phone: (720) 264-6550
Fax: (720) 264-6585 
States covered: CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY
Region IX
San Francisco Federal Building
90 7th Street
Suite 2650
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 625-2547
Fax: (415) 625-2534 
States covered: AZ, CA, GU, HI, NV, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands
Region X
Fifth & Yesler Tower
300 Fifth Avenue
Suite 1280
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: (206) 757-6700
Fax: (206) 757-6705 
States covered: AK, ID or, WA

States with their own state plans

Twenty-eight states and territories administer their own “state plans” under authority granted by OSHA according to the OSH Act after approving the state’s application. Fix of these states have only public sector coverage while federal OSHA retains private sector jurisdiction. A list of all state plan program follows:


1251 Muldoon Road, Suite 113
Juneau, AK 99504

Dr. Tamika L. Ledbetter, Commissioner (907) 465-4957 | Fax: (907) 465-2784

Grey Mitchell, Director (907) 465-4855 | Fax: (907) 465-3584


800 West Washington
Phoenix, AZ 85007-2922

James Ashley, Director ICA (602) 542-4411 | Fax: (602) 542-7889

Jason Porter, Assistance Director (602) 542-5795 | Fax: (602) 542-1614      


Division of Occupational Safety and Health
1515 Clay Street, Suite 1901
Oakland, CA 94612

Doug Parker, Chief (510) 286-7000 | Fax: (510) 286-7037

Cora Gherga, Assistant to the Chief of Enforcement Administration

Eric Berg, Deputy Chief


Connecticut Occupational Safety and Health Division (Conn-OSHA)
38 Wolcott Hill Road
Wethersfield, CT 06109

Kenneth Tucker, Director (860) 263-6900 | Fax: (860) 263-6940


Division of Occupational Safety and Health
830 Punchbowl Street, Suite 321
Honolulu, HI 96813

Scott T. Murakami, State Plan Designee and Director, DLIR (808) 586-8844 | Fax: (808) 586-9100

Norman Ahu, HIOSH Administrator (808) 586-9116


Illinois Department of Labor – (Public Sector Only)
Public Employee Safety and Education Division
900 South Spring Street
Springfield, IL 62702

Michael D. Kleinik, Acting Director (312) 782-0096

Ben Noven, Director, Illinois OSHA (217) 782-6206


State Office Building
402 West Washington Street, Room W195
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2751

Rick J. Ruble, Commissioner of Labor (317) 232-2693 | Fax: (317) 233-3790

Michelle Ellison, Deputy Commissioner, IOSHA (317) 233-3605 | Fax: (317) 233-3790


150 Des Moines Street
Des Moines, IA 50309-1836

Rod Roberts, Labor Commissioner (515) 725-5602 | Fax: (515) 281-7995

Luther Don Peddy, IOSH Administrator (515) 725-5625 | Fax: (515) 281-7995


Mayo-Underwood Building
500 Metro Street, 3rd Floor
Frankfort, KY 40601

David Dickerson, Secretary (502) 564-3070 | Fax: (502) 564-4769

Dwayne Depp, Commissioner, Department of Workplace Standards (502) 564-0960

Chuck Stribling, CSP, OSH Federal-State Coordinator, Department of Workplace Standards (502) 564-3070


Workplace Safety and Health Division
45 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0045

Daniel Bolduc, Director, Bureau of Labor Standards (207) 623-7932 | Fax: (207) 623-7934

Steve Greeley, Director, MEOSH (207) 623-7916 | Fax: (207) 623-7934


Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation
1100 North Eutaw Street, Room 600
Baltimore, MD 21201-2206

Matthew Helminiak, Commissioner (410) 767-2961

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH)
10946 Golden West Drive, Suite 160
Hunt Valley, MD 21031

Michael Penn, Chief of Compliance, MOSH (410) 527-2062 | Fax: (410) 527-4482


Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA)
Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration
530 W. Allegan Street
P.O. Box 30643
Lansing, MI 48909

Orlene Hawks, Director, LARA (517) 335-9700 | Fax: (517) 284-7775

Bart Pickelman, Director, MIOSHA (517) 284-7777 | Fax: (517) 284-7775


Minnesota OSHA (MNOSHA)
443 Lafayette Road North 
St. Paul, MN 55155-4307

Nancy Leppink, Commissioner (651) 284-5010 | Fax: (651) 284-5721

James Krueger, Workplace Safety Manager (651) 284-5602 | Fax: (651) 284-5741

Nancy Zentgraf, Director MNOSHA Compliance (651) 284-5571 | Fax: (651) 284-5741


Division of Industrial Relations
400 West King Street, Suite 400
Carson City, Nevada 89703

Ray Fierro, Interim Administrator (775) 684-7270

Occupational Safety and Health Administration
3360 West Sahara Avenue, Suite 200
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89102

Jess Lankford, Chief Administrative Officer (702) 486-9020 | Fax: (702) 990-0358

New Jersey

Office of Public Employees Occupational Safety & Health (PEOSH)
1 John Fitch Plaza
P.O. Box 369
Trenton, NJ 08625-0369

Robert Asaro-Angelo, Commissioner (609) 292-2975 | Fax: (609) 292-3749

Howard Black, Assistant Commissioner PSOSH (609) 292-0501

New Mexico

Occupational Health and Safety Bureau
525 Camino de los Marquez, Suite 3
Santa Fe, NM 87502

Robert Genoway, Bureau Chief (505) 476-8700 | Fax: (505) 476-8734

Gregory Marquez, Compliance Program Manager (505) 476-8724 | Fax: (505) 476-8734

New York

New York Department of Labor – (Public sector only)
Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) Bureau
Governor W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus
Building - 12, Room 158
Albany, NY 12240

Roberta Reardon, Acting Commissioner (518) 457-2746 | Fax: (518) 457-5545

Eileen Franko, Director, Division of Safety and Health (DOSH) (518) 457-3518 | Fax: (518) 457-5545

Len Schwartz, Program Manager, PESH (607) 721-8211

North Carolina

North Carolina Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Division
1101 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1101

Cherie Berry, Commissioner (919) 707-7700

Scott Mabry, Assistant Deputy Commissioner (919) 707-7802

Kevin Beauregard, Deputy Commissioner (919) 707-7800


Department of Consumer and Business Services
350 Winter Street, NE, Room 430
P.O. Box 14480
Salem, OR 97309-0405

Michael Wood, Administrator (503) 378-3272 | Fax: (503) 947-7461

Julie Love, Deputy Administrator (503) 378-3272 | Fax: (503) 947-7461

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Prudencio Rivera Martínez Building
505 Muñoz Rivera Avenue, 20th Floor
Hato Rey, PR 00918

Honorable Briseida Torres Reyes, Secretary of Labor (787) 754-2119

Luis E. Pardo, Assistant Secretary of Labor (787) 754-2172 | Fax: (787) 767-6051

South Carolina

Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration
121 Executive Center Dr., Suite 230
P.O. Box 11329
Columbia, SC 29211-1329

Emily Farr, Director (803) 896-4300

Kristina Baker, Deputy Director (803) 896-0183

Gwen Thomas, Occupational Safety and Health Administrator (803) 896-0183


220 French Landing Drive
Nashville, TN 37243-1002

Jeff McCord, Commissioner (844) 224-5818

Steve Hawkins, TOSHA Administrator (615) 741-2793


Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division
160 East 300 South, 3rd Floor
P.O. Box 146600
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6600

Jaceson Maughan, Commissioner (801) 530-6800 | Fax: (801) 530-6044

Cameron Ruppe, Division Director (801) 530-6898 | Fax: (801) 530-7606

Holly Lawrence, Compliance Program Manager (810) 530-6494 | Fax: (801) 530-7606


5 Green Mountain Drive
P.O. Box 488
Montpelier, VT 05620-0488

Lindsay H. Kurrle, Commissioner (802) 828-4000 | (802) 888-4022

Daniel Whipple, VOSHA Program Manager (802) 828-5084 (802) 828-0408

Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands Department of Labor – (Public sector only)
Division of Occupational Safety and Health
4401 Sion Farm
Christiansted, St. Croix, VI 00820

Gary Molloy, Commissioner (340) 773-1994 ext. 2101

Dean Andrews, VIDOSH Director (340) 773-1994 ext. 2161 


Powers-Taylor Building
Main Street Centre
600 East Main Street, Suite 207
Richmond, VA 23219

C. Ray Davenport, Commissioner (804) 786 2377 | Fax: (804) 371-6524

William Burge, Assistant Commissioner (804) 786-2377 | Fax: (804) 371-6524

Ronald L. Graham, VOSH Health Director (804) 786-0574 


Division of Occupational Safety and Health
7273 Linderson Way SW
Tumwater, WA 98501-5414
P.O. Box 44600
Olympia, WA 98504-4600

Anne Soiza, Assistant Director, DOSH (360) 902-5090 | Fax: (360) 902-5619

Craig Blackwood, Deputy Assistant Director, DOSH (360) 902-5828 | Fax: (360) 902-5619


Herschler Building
122 West 25th Street, 2nd Floor East
Cheyenne, WY 82002

Jason Wolfe, Administrator, Office of Standards & Compliance (307) 777-7672 | Fax: (307) 777-5298

Ken Masters, Operations Manager (307) 777-7705

Research and studies

Responsibility for scientific research and technical studies was vested by the OSH Act in the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIOSH researchers, and often contractors working under NIOSH grants, develop the “criteria” for standards on workplace health and safety. These criteria become the basis for the OSHA standard-setting process, which must consider issues beyond the technical and scientific ones. NIOSH also conducts research on occupational diseases. In addition, the OSH Act authorizes field inspections for research at employers’ places of business, which are conducted under the same statutory authority as OSHA compliance inspections. NIOSH does not issue citations for OSHA violations.

As the national government’s principal provider of technical and scientific services in the field, NIOSH develops testing criteria and protocols for workplace safety devices, and certifies those that pass the tests. These certification tests are authorized both by the OSH Act and the federal Coal Mine Safety Act. Many certifications are issued jointly by NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). NIOSH or NIOSH/MSHA approval provides some assurances to employers, and it encourages innovation among manufacturers to meet the stringent standards for certification.

Review of contested citations

The OSH Act also created a third major entity – the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) – to resolve contest of citations  between employers and OSHA. The OSHRC functions as a federal court, with similar formalities and powers (for example, to compel testimony). Its three Commissioners, who are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, serve for six-year terms. The OSHRC has authority to appoint subordinate administrative law judges to hear cases.

The purpose of state programs

An OSHA state plan agency normally exists within the state’s Department of Labor. Also, each state’s Commissioner of Labor is appointed by the governor or elected by the state voters. All state OSHA programs conduct inspections of employer’s workplaces and issue citations and penalties for violations of its standards. Most of these standards are identical to those enforced by federal OSHA.


In general, coverage of the OSH Act extends to all private sector employers and their employees in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all other territories under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government. All private employers engaged in business affecting interstate commerce are covered. Both the employer that uses their service and the employer that provides such services are covered.


The OSH Act does exempt from coverage employers that are entities of national, state, and local government. However, in state OSHA programs, there is no such broad exemption for state government employers and employees, but state OSHA programs have no authority to regulate health and safety of employees of the U.S. government.

Several other types of employers are exempt from coverage by the OSH Act, and these are not regulated by federal and state plan OSHA. These include self-employed persons, as well as employees on farms on which the farm employer and the immediate family of the farm employer constitute the entire workforce. State OSHA plans do not regulate health and safety in maritime, railroad, and mining operations. Federal OSHA has reserved the regulation of maritime operations because of several reasons:

  • They want a unified policy for all navigable waters.
  • They did not feel the states would be equipped to handle these types of inspections.
  • The Coast Guard does preempt certain areas of safety on navigable waters.

The OSH Act also specifically exempts from coverage employers and their employees covered with respect to workplace health and safety under other federal agencies’ statutory authority (with the exceptions discussed previously). Thus, an employer may be exempt if it can show that another federal agency, under its own statutorily authorized regulation or federal law, has authority to regulate employee health and safety. (This preemption can be raised by an employer as an affirmative defense to an OSHA citation. See Chapter 11: Procedural and affirmative defenses.)

Case law has determined that this preemption applies to workplaces subject to regulation of employees’ health and safety by many agencies, including: 

  • the Environmental Protection Agency
  • the Coast Guard
  • the federal Railway Administration
  • the federal Aviation Administration
  • the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The scope of the preemption often does not encompass all aspects of health and safety in a workplace; normally it is limited to specific subjects and situations. Other aspects of these employers’ workplace health and safety would be within the proper jurisdiction of state plan OSHA. For example, employees loading or unloading a railroad boxcar would be covered by state plan OSHA, while the train operation would be covered by the federal railway safety rules.


When enacted, the OSH Act permitted fast action by the Secretary of Labor to issue “as official OSHA standards” any existing standard on workplace health and safety. The Act provided for an initial two-year period in which OSHA could adopt any “national consensus standard” or established federal standard, unless the Secretary made an explicit determination that workplace health and safety would not be improved by the adoption. Congress has directed that the more protective standard be adopted in the event of a conflict. Many standards were issued under this provision, and later revised, under more formal procedures, after the first two years.

The OSH Act specifies the procedure by which OSHA standards may be issued, modified, or revoked. Under this procedure, the standard-setting process begins when the Secretary determines that a need exists – on the basis of information from the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, or various sources. The OSH Act imposes time limits on the period for development of a proposed rule.

When the Secretary has developed the proposed health or safety rule, the text must be published in the Federal Register, the publication of all governmental statutes and regulations, as a notice of proposed rulemaking, and interested parties must be given 30 days thereafter to submit written comments. Any interested individual, group, or association objecting to the proposed rule may request a public hearing. Within 60 days after the close of the comment period, or after any public hearing, the Secretary is supposed to issue the rule. The new rule must appear in the Federal Register, with notice of the date on which it becomes effective.

Advance notice of proposed standards

OSHA sometimes publishes, in the Federal Register, an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” before there is an actual formal proposal. In such situations, OSHA solicits information from the scientific and regulated communities that will help in preparing a new standard.

Emergency temporary standards

In extreme situations, OSHA may issue “emergency temporary standards” (ETSs) through a process that bypasses these formalities. The Secretary first must determine that employees are exposed to some “grave danger” from a workplace hazard and that immediate action by OSHA is necessary to provide protection. If OSHA issues such a standard, it is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, and it remains in effect until it is superseded by a standard issued under the formal process dictated in the OSH Act. The Secretary must begin this formal process using the ETS as the proposed rule, and the formally issued standard must be issued within six months after its publication.

Common pre-inspection questions and answers

Q. Who is covered by OSHA?

A. All employers with one or more employees, except for federal, state, or local governments, are covered by OSHA. This exclusion for federal, state, and local governments is limited – that is, the existence of a contractual or other relationship with a government entity will not relieve you of OSHA’s jurisdiction. However, employers with fewer than 11 employees generally will not be inspected except in cases of a complaint or a referral from another governmental agency. Such companies also are exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements.

Q. What are OSHA's requirements?

A. There are two types of OSHA requirements:

  1. Specific OSHA standards and regulations set forth in the Federal Register and codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
  2. OSHA’s “general duty” requirement – discussed in detail in Chapter 04: Employer’s general duty.

Q. What are OSHA's specific standards and where can they be found?

A. OSHA’s specific standards are those adopted by OSHA through rulemaking or (especially in the case of older rules) through adoption of existing national consensus standards such as, the National Fire Protection Association. (See 29CFR Section 1910.6) All OSHA standards and can be accessed online at: 

Various private publishing services also reprint the standards, including Commerce Clearing House (CCH) and the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). Copies of specific OSHA standards also may be obtained from the local OSHA office. However, employers should be careful since standards change. Therefore, a company must keep current on not only OSHA’s generally applicable standards, but also those that are directed specifically to its particular type of business or industry.

Q. What is the difference between a standard and a regulation?

A. A standard is intended to directly affect employees’ working conditions by identifying hazards and prescribing means to eliminate or materially reduce them. Regulations deal with procedural matters, such as recordkeeping and steps to take following receipt of a citation. OSHA can issue citations for violation of either standards or regulations.

Q. What is a "general duty clause" violation?

A. Under the OSH Act, an employer has an obligation to furnish “employment and place of employment … free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This is a “catch-all” provision and is intended to correct conditions where there is no specific applicable OSHA standard.

To establish a “general duty“ clause violation, OSHA must demonstrate that a hazardous condition to which the employer’s employees were exposed existed in the workplace, that the employer “recognized” the hazardous condition or that its industry recognized it, that the hazard was causing or likely to cause serious physical harm or death, and that the correction of the condition was “feasible.” The standard for judging feasibility is the opinion of the safety or health experts (or knowledgeable persons) familiar with the industry. Although there are grades of violations, “general duty“ clause violations must be “serious,” since the statute requires that they be capable of causing death or serious physical harm.

Q. What happens if an employer cannot meet OSHA's standards?

A. The answer depends upon the reason. The OSH Act sets forth procedures for temporary and permanent variances from OSHA standards. Temporary variances are intended to permit an employer additional time in which to come into compliance with a new standard. Permanent variances are used when it is impossible for an employer to meet the requirements of the standard. Generally, to obtain a variance, an employer must prove that it has some unusual difficulty in complying and that a company’s proposed alternative provides the same degree of safety to its employees. The company cannot obtain a variance in order to avoid a citation that has been issued for violation of a standard. 

Q. How does a company prepare for an OSHA inspection?

A. Appoint a contact person (such as a safety officer) and backup at each company location to keep up to date on OSHA regulations and standards. This safety officer will act as a company’s representative during any OSHA inspection. The company representative should be trained on the company's legal rights during an inspection. Also, it is advisable to institute an in-house inspection procedure. Test the facility before the OSHA inspector arrives.


The company should be aware, however, that written safety audits conducted in-house or by a third party in the normal course of business may be obtained by OSHA during an inspection or in connection with litigation over a citation. Therefore, a company should consult with OSHA counsel before undertaking such a project. Also, inform the employees about the importance of maintaining a safe workplace by holding periodic safety meetings. Where warranted, safety violators should be disciplined in accordance with established company disciplinary policies and procedures. Finally, make sure the facility’s recordkeeping is current and complete, and that OSHA's required notices to employees are posted in locations where other notices to employees are posted.

Q. What instructions should be given to other employees?

A. Other employees, notably receptionists and security personnel, should be advised that, upon the appearance on the premises of any OSHA agent, the individual’s name, title, and purpose of visit should be obtained. Request the OSHA agent to present his or her identification – credentials and business card – and ask the investigator to identify the OSHA area office to which he or she reports. The OSHA compliance officer should then be told that he or she will be referred to the safety officer. No questions should be answered or information given. It is also important that such employees be instructed not to be awed by any badge or identification shown or agency name given, nor by any intimidating or threatening remarks or officious manner. The rule is to be cool, courteous, correct, and firm.

Q. When will the OSHA inspection occur?

A. Generally, an employer will not have any advance warning of an OSHA inspection. In fact, advance warning of an inspection is prohibited under the Act. Any person giving advance notice of an inspection is subject to a maximum $12,675 fine or six months imprisonment or both. However, in the case of an investigation resulting from an accident or where additional visits are needed to complete an inspection, OSHA may schedule a return visit when it is deemed appropriate in the opinion of the area director.