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You have probably heard of OSHA, but what exactly is it?

Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1971 in order to prevent work accidents and deaths due to unsafe working environments. Since its creation, work-related deaths have decreased by over 65 percent while injuries and illnesses have lessened by 67 percent.OSHA covers most private sector employers and employees, as well as some employees in the public sector. Self-employed workers, family members of farm employers and workers in fields regulated by other agencies are generally not covered. OSHA sets standards describing the methods employers must comply with to protect their workers from hazards or a preventable accident at work. Some of these standards include regulations to prevent falls or cave-ins, reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and provide respirators or other safety equipment for employees.

If an employee has concerns about possible OSHA violations or apparent hazards within the person's workplace, the worker has a right to file a confidential complaint with OSHA to have the workplace inspected. Workers are entitled to safe working conditions and are free to speak with OSHA inspectors without fear of retaliation or discrimination by an employer.

If an employer is found to have violated OSHA regulations, OSHA may assess a penalty for each violation discovered. Fines may range anywhere from $7,000 to $70,000 per instance, depending on the nature and willfulness of the violation. Workers compensation claims help compensate workers that have been injured from an employer's failure to abide by OSHA standards.

With approximately 2,200 inspectors, OSHA is responsible for the safety of nearly 130 million workers. While its regulations and inspections have proven to greatly reduce the number of workplace injuries and fatalities, those that can see OSHA violations the most are those working in the conditions. Any employee that questions the safety of the person's work environment should feel free to contact an OSHA representative or workers compensation lawyer to confidentially begin an investigation.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "OSHA Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Oct. 20, 2014

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