The Act's Coverage

In general, coverage of the Act extends to all employers and their employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all other territories under federal government jurisdiction. Coverage is provided either directly by federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program.

As defined by the Act, an employer is any "person engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United States or any state or political subdivision of a state."

Therefore, the Act applies to employers and employees in such varied fields as manufacturing, construction, longshoring, agriculture, law and medicine, charity and disaster relief, organized labor and private education. Such coverage includes religious groups to the extent that they employ workers for secular purposes.

The following are not covered under the Act:

  • Self-employed persons;

  • Farms at which only immediate members of the farm employer's family are employed; and

  • Workplaces already protected by other federal agencies under other federal statutes.

But even when another federal agency is authorized to regulate safety and health working conditions in a particular industry, if it does not do so in specific areas, then OSHA standards apply.

As OSHA develops effective safety and health standards of its own, standards issued under the following laws administered by the Department of Labor are superseded: the Walsh-Healey Act, the Service Contract Act, the Construction Safety Act, the Arts and Humanities Act and the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.

Provisions for Federal Employees

Each federal agency is required under the Act to establish and maintain an effective and comprehensive safety and health program. Such a program has to be consistent with OSHA standards for private employers. The Secretary of Labor provides federal agencies with guidance to assist them in maintaining an effective program for their employees.

As required by the Act and an Executive Order, federal agency heads submit annual reports to the Secretary on the status of their OSHA programs. The Secretary in turn analyzes the reports and statistical data on federal employee injuries and illnesses and prepares a summary report to the President of the overall findings and recommendations.

Individual agencies may, at their option, establish safety and health committees composed of an equal number of management and employee representatives. Committees have access to agency information on hazards in the workplace and monitor agency performance including inspections.

Also, they have the authority to request an OSHA inspection if at least half the committee is dissatisfied with agency response to a safety or health problem. OSHA has general inspection authority for agencies which do not set up committees.

OSHA assumed full enforcement jurisdiction over the U.S. Postal Service in October 1998. In the past, OSHA made inspections and issued notices without penalties. Since assuming enforcement duties, it issues citations and penalties to the Postal Service in the same manner as the private sector industries.

Provisions for State and Local Governments

OSHA provisions do not apply to state and local governments in their role as employers. However, the Act does provide that any state desiring to gain OSHA approval for its private sector occupational safety and health program must provide a program which covers its state and local government workers and which is at least as effective as its program for private employees.

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