What Is Occupational Health and Safety Law?

Occupational Health and Safety law is a field of law that centers around the safety of employees at work.

It is an area of law that creates and enforces regulations surrounding employment and labor.

Attorneys who practice occupational health and safety law are litigators, administrative attorneys, and in-house counsel who all work to make, implement, and enforce occupational health and safety laws.

What Is Occupational Health and Safety Law?

Occupational health and safety law is a body of law that requires employers to implement safety measures for the benefit of their employees.

The purpose of occupational health and safety laws is to encourage and require safe working conditions with minimal risks for employees.

It is an area of law that involves both implementing mandatory provisions created by governing authorities and undertaking voluntary risk analysis in order to ensure a safe workplace.

Most occupational health and safety law comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Where Does Occupational Health and Safety Law Come From?

Occupational health and safety law comes from both federal and state sources.

All states have some form of Occupational and Safety and Health Administration.

States have varying levels of regulations and requirements that apply to employers in their jurisdiction.

In addition, the United States federal government makes and enforces safety standards through the U.S. Department of Labor.

In addition to federal and state regulations, occupational health and safety law also involves voluntary risk analysis and prevention on the part of an employer.

An employer who evaluates and proactively takes measures in order to address safety risks shields themselves from costly litigation and worker’s compensation claims that may result from workplace injuries.

Attorneys who practice occupational health and safety laws may be involved in any of the voluntary or mandatory enforcement of measures designed to prevent workplace accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

Most federal regulation of occupational safety and health comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The Act establishes an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create and oversee regulations in the workplace.

The United States Department of Labor Secretary is charged with implementing and overseeing OSHA regulations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 does not itself create the safety standards that must be implemented day-to-day by employers throughout the United States.

Instead, the Act empowers OSHA and the U.S. Secretary of Labor to make and enforce rules.

OSHA allows the Secretary to gather information and, with a committee, consider and pass safety regulations that employers must enforce.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act does the following:

  • Authorizes the Secretary of Labor to set mandatory standards for businesses to promote safety
  • Funds and authorizes research on employer health and safety topics
  • Requires employers to provide employment that is free from known hazards that could result in death or serious physical harm
  • Mandates that employers follow rules that OSHA makes regarding safety
  • Provides for a period of comment and an advisory committee to implement rules
  • Allows the Secretary or their representative to inspect a workplace for a potential rule violation
  • Creates a way for employees to report suspected rule violations
  • Implements a system of penalties and a system for enforcement
  • Keeps trade secrets confidential for employees during the enforcement process

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 says that the purpose of the law is to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for employees.

The law is based on the constitutional law provisions that the federal government can regulate interstate commerce.

In passing the law, the United States Congress said that unsafe working conditions hinder commerce, increase disability payments, and reduce workplace productivity.

Penalties for OSHA Violations

Penalties for an OSHA violation include a fine of up to $13,260 per violation as of 2019.

There may be additional penalties if a violation is willful.

In addition, the government may impose another fine if a company fails to remedy a violation.

They may impose a fine each day that a violation occurs.

For an employer who willfully violates OSHA and death results, the employer may face six months in prison.

For a repeat offender, the maximum penalty is one year in prison.

In addition, a person may face six months in prison if they warn a business about an upcoming inspection.

There is also a penalty of up to six months for providing false information during an investigation.

OSHA makes it clear that states have concurrent jurisdiction to enforce their own safety regulations.

Examples of OSHA Requirements

OSHA requirements cover topics like managing toxic materials to safety equipment for workers.

Safety equipment may include eye and face protection and high-visibility wear for workers who work near heavy objects and equipment.

Fall protection and respiratory protection are both major considerations for safety and health administration.

Safety considerations include both immediate dangers and injuries that may occur from long-term exposure to various hazards.

Fields within Occupational Safety and Health Law

Attorneys who practice within the field of occupational health and safety law may find themselves in any of the following types of practice:

Administrative Law Creation and Enforcement

Occupational health and safety law begins with the creation of rules for employers to follow.

Lawyers are a part of the teams that create the rules.

A great deal of research goes into creating OSHA rules, and lawyers participate in the process.

In addition, it is lawyers who work to enforce the rules. Lawyers represent state agencies and the federal government in rule enforcement.

A lawyer may act as the state agent who represents OSHA, or they may act as an administrative judge to make decisions at contested hearings.

In multiple ways, these lawyers work for government agencies in rule creation and enforcement.

Defending Allegations of Violations for Private Business

Businesses also need attorneys in the field of occupational safety and health.

When a business is charged with a violation of an OSHA regulation or state occupational safety regulation, it faces large fines.

Individuals may even face criminal penalties.

Attorneys work to represent companies who need to defend against allegations of rule violations.

An attorney may work for the company as an in-house counsel, or they might work for a law firm with the company as a client.

An attorney helps the company decide whether to take the matter to a contested hearing.

They also work to help clients present evidence when an administrative judge or judicial court hears a contested matter.

Proactive Safety Risk Assessments

Part of working as a private occupational health and safety lawyer is helping a client proactively avoid risks and comply with safety directives.

A business needs to know what regulations apply.

They also need to know what other safety measures they should take in order to prevent accidents and other costly problems.

Attorneys in the field of occupational health and safety who work on behalf of private clients may represent clients in any of these capacities.

Who Practices Occupational Safety and Health Law?

Occupational safety and health lawyers practice throughout the United States.

Businesses in all 50 states have to comply with OSHA and state occupational safety administration laws.

In addition, lawyers work for federal and state government agencies throughout the United States.

Lawyers who enter the field of occupational health and safety may choose to work in any state.

Attorneys in the field need to understand technical issues that are often complex.

They may need to understand industrial issues in order to provide their clients with sound representation.

Lawyers with a background in the industry in which they practice may be particularly effective in their work.

There are often fines, criminal prosecution, and brand notoriety on the line when a company faces allegations of violations.

Attorneys who practice occupational safety and health law help their clients navigate this myriad of issues.

Why Practice Occupational Safety and Health Law?

Lawyers who practice occupational safety and health law use a wide variety of legal skills over a range of diverse topics.

They have the opportunity to practice administrative law while also having exposure to litigation.

Lawyers in the industry also learn about occupational safety and health issues as they pertain to specific industries.

A lawyer may choose to live and work in any state of their choosing.

There are opportunities to work as in-house counsel, as an attorney in private practice, or as an attorney for a government agency.

There are opportunities to work both in enforcement and in defense.

Lawyers continue to be integral in their respective roles through periods of economic growth as well as during economic downturns.

Safety as a Field of Law

Occupational safety and health attorneys make a career out of creating, implementing, and enforcing safety laws.

They may work for a government body creating and enforcing rules.

Alternatively, they may work for a company implementing rules and defending against allegations of violations.

For all attorneys in the industry, safety is their life’s work.

Michael Morales

About Michael Morales

Michael Morales is the Webmaster and Editor in Chief for Legalcareerpaths.com. With a strong background in Web Publishing and Internet Marketing, he currently works as an independent consultant. A former paramedic and ems educator, he enjoys punishing himself doing triathlons and endurance sports. Michael currently lives in sunny Northern California, home of the highest tax rates in the world.

2 Responses to What Is Occupational Health and Safety Law?

  1. Avatar
    Dalia Williams #

    Professionals in health and safety law play a pivotal role in ensuring that organizations and individuals comply with regulations and take proactive measures to maintain a safe and healthy environment.

  2. Avatar
    Farrel Buchinsky #

    As health and safety concerns continue to evolve, this area of law remains a dynamic and essential aspect of public and occupational well-being.

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