With a new administration focused on increased OSHA inspections and the enforcement of safer workplaces, it is a good time to review your safety program and ensure it is ironclad. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has recently published a new Field Operations Manual (FOM) which tells OSHA officials how to conduct inspections and set fines. This manual also clarifies the General Duty Clause, which is the catch-all for safety issues in the workplace not covered by specific standards.
WHAT IS THE OSHA “GENERAL DUTY CLAUSE?”
Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act is also known as the General Duty Clause. It states: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
The General Duty Clause is used only where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard and in situations where a recognized hazard is created in whole or in part by conditions not covered by a standard. Only hazards presenting serious physical harm or death may be cited under the General Duty Clause.
In general, Review Commission and court precedent have established that the following elements are necessary to prove a violation of the General Duty Clause:
• The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees were exposed;
• The hazard was recognized or reasonably foreseeable;
• The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
• There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.
How often is the General Duty Clause used to cite employers? Actually, quite often; the General Duty Clause ranked 7th highest in OSHA penalty fees for 2008. One of the most significant parts of OSHA’s newly revised Field Operations Manual is the clarification it provides on what makes a hazard “recognized.” Let’s review what the General Duty Clause means to you as an employer.
The hazard must be recognizable based on employer recognition, industry recognition, or “common-sense” recognition.