Safety officer tip: Play it safe with the general duty clause

By: March 22nd, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Sometimes there will be a danger in the workplace that OSHA hasn’t drafted a particular standard to address. This is the case with hazards such as MRSA, TB, ergonomics, and workplace violence. However, some states address such issues through their state laws (e.g., New York law covers workplace violence). In situations like this, OSHA can enforce language in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 USC 654), section 5, commonly referred to as the general duty clause:

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.

Because OSHA standards are laws and have to undergo the congressional review process, a hazard that is relatively new might take time to go through drafting and approval. Sometimes OSHA considers the already-published safety guidance from agencies like NIOSH to be sufficient and will choose not to waste resources reinventing the wheel. Still other times, OSHA opts to provide safety information using guidelines, fact sheets, and other published materials that it treats as standards.

Remember, if an agency like the CDC has stated that a particular hazard exists in the medical workplace, you will be hard-pressed to prove to OSHA that the hazard wasn’t recognized. That’s why it’s best to take a conservative approach and follow published recommendations as if they are required.

Source: Excerpted from HCPro’s OSHA Training Handbook for Healthcare Facilities.


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