Make safe working conditions your businessThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with ensuring safe working conditions throughout the United States. In fact, OSHA's regulations cover just about every American worker, excluding the self-employed, family farmers and public transit workers.
In short, if you have employees (even one or two!), you're most likely required to comply with OSHA regulations.
Basic OSHA requirements
OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace free of serious harms and hazards and comply with specific workplace safety regulations. As an employer, you must:
- Display OSHA's official poster, which explains an employee's safety and health rights
- Maintain an emergency action plan that details procedures for emergency evacuation in case of fire and rescue duties for a medical emergency
- Provide adequate emergency exits and maintain accessible exit routes in the workplace
- Provide adequate restroom facilities in the workplace, including hot and cold water, soap, and towels or hand dryers
Office environments and other low-hazard workplaces are subject to minimal regulation beyond these basic requirements.
If your nonprofit has a more hazardous workplace — you have a clinic or another health care or social service site, for example, or you're in the construction industry — you're subject to additional regulation. You may need to cover risks such as exposure to bloodborne pathogens, toxic substances and workplace violence. You'll likely need to report workplace accidents and injuries as well.
OSHA whistleblower protection
OSHA provides protection from retaliation by employers — whistleblower protection — for employees who report workplace issues such as:
- Unsafe working conditions, including dangers such as asbestos
- Use of unsafe consumer products
- Unsafe motor vehicle operations
OSHA also protects workers who report financial irregularities, including suspected fraud, violations of securities law or corporate misconduct. In this case, retaliation includes firing or any other punishment, such as reducing hours or salary, withholding raises or bonuses, or transferring the employee to another location.
Playing it safe OSHA
If you're in doubt about basic OSHA requirements, check with OSHA for training or other educational opportunities. After all, workers deserve a safe working environment — and customers, clients and constituents deserve fair and safe treatment. Plus, penalties for noncompliance can be steep. Evidence of not maintaining a safe environment, or of retaliating against workers who report unsafe conditions, may subject your organization to fines of up to $20,000.
Pro Bono Partnership: A nonprofit's guide to OSHA by Daniel J. Davis and Jessica Childress (2016)
OSHA: OSHA compliance assistance (2008)
OSHA: Your rights as a whistleblower (2013)