OSHA’s General Duty Clause and Lone Worker Safety

Have you ever heard of OSHA’s General Duty Clause? Do you know how it can affect your organization and its operations? Unfortunately, many employers answer no to those two questions and are at risk of regulatory fines and potential civil and criminal lawsuits, as a result.

“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.” – OSHA’s General Duty Clause, found in section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

Put simply, employers must find and fix health and safety hazards in the workplace, even if those hazards don’t fall under an existing OSHA standard. It is OSHA’s response to the common justification: “Well, that isn’t a safety regulation, so I don’t have to do it.”

Creation of the General Duty Clause

Workplaces and their hazards are diverse, and it is impossible to have a regulation for absolutely every hazardous situation that may exist today or in the future. That is where the General Duty Clause comes in and serves to fill the gaps left open by current laws.

Many credit former Arizona Governor Howard Pyle with creating the General Duty Clause. In 1969, he argued before the House and Senate that adding a general duty clause to occupational safety and health regulations was necessary to protect workers.

When the General Duty Clause is Applied

More than 1 billion workers spend part or all of their workday alone, without coworkers available to help during an emergency. It’s important to know how OSHA’s General Duty Clause applies to this segment of workers. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images)

While you won’t see the General Duty Clause in OSHA’s top-10 most frequently cited workplace safety violations, it is still crucial for companies to understand. Specifically, the hazard in question must meet specific criteria before the General Duty Clause is applied.

  • The employer failed to remove a hazard to which a worker was exposed. OSHA will try to determine who was exposed and establish a chain of command to see who was responsible for fixing the hazard.
  • The employer recognized the hazard. OSHA will look for prior knowledge of the hazard from multiple sources, including injury and audit reports or written employee complaints. Also, if the hazard is so obvious that any reasonable person would recognize it, that might be good enough to satisfy this step.
  • The hazard caused or is likely to cause severe harm or death. The harm or potential harm can be both a physical impairment or an illness.
  • The hazard must be correctable. That means that the corrective actions required to fix the hazard must be available and realistic to the business, both technically and financially.

Now that you understand more about OSHA’s General Duty Clause, look closer at your own operations, and then ask yourself: “Am I doing everything I can to keep my employees safe?”

General Duty Clause and Lone Worker Safety

One significant, but often forgotten, area of risk affecting a substantial portion of the workforce is lone worker safety. Consider this: More than one billion workers spend part or all of their workday alone, without coworkers available to help during an emergency. How can a company ensure the safety of its workers in these situations?

Editors note: This article first appeared as a blog on Guardhat’s website. For the original, go to: https://bit.ly/3VDi2Zn. Lone worker solutions from Guardhat allow companies to take a proactive approach towards lone worker safety with configurable, hazardous work check-ins and fall-detection alerts.

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