If you’re preparing for a career as an HVAC technician or an electrician, you know that your job will involve some hazards. Your training will prepare you to evaluate your working conditions so you can ensure your own safety, but the US government also has a dedicated administrative division, OSHA, that strives to guarantee your safety on the job.
Learn more about this important government body and how its regulations protect you.
What OSHA Is and What It Does
The term OSHA refers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is a segment of the Department of Labor that was established in the 1970s. Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1979 when it recognized that workplace accidents and health hazards have a huge impact on the nation’s economy.
OSHA’s mission is to protect all workers in America from workplace hazards that could jeopardize their health or safety. To accomplish this mission, OSHA sets safety standards, performs inspections to ensure employers comply with the applicable standards, and provides training and materials designed to prevent accidents.
Since OSHA was founded, on-the-job fatalities have dropped more than 50 percent. At the same time, work-related injuries and illnesses have decreased significantly, especially in industries where OSHA focuses its attention. One of those industries is construction and building improvement, the job field that includes HVAC technicians and electricians.
How OSHA Applies to HVAC and Electrical Work
When you obtain employment as an HVAC technician or an electrician, your employer has a legal responsibility to ensure that you work in a safe environment. Some employer responsibilities are the same for nearly every employer. These responsibilities include the following:
- Provide safety training that workers can understand.
- Record work-related illnesses and injuries.
- Share records of work-related illnesses and injuries with employees.
- Put up the OSHA poster (or a state equivalent) in a prominent workplace location. This poster details employee rights to safe working conditions.
- Provide employees with safe equipment and tools needed to perform job responsibilities.
- Inspect worksites for safety hazards, and adjust the workplace conditions as needed.
Depending on the nature of your work, your employer may also be required to apply and enforce specific safety standards, such as the following:
- Safe use of stairways, ladders, or scaffolding
- Safe use of hand and power tools
- Protection from shocks, fires, or electrocution when working with electricity
- Protection from danger when working in confined spaces
In your HVAC or electrical career, you will likely work at various locations every day, such as office buildings or private homes. Even though you will work at multiple sites, your employer must still inspect each site for safety hazards or train you to thoroughly evaluate worksite conditions so you can stay safe.
What Rights OSHA Protects for Workers Like You
OSHA strives to ensure that all employees can feel safe at their jobs, so they guarantee workers some special protections. These protections include the following:
- You have the right to request an OSHA inspection of your workplace or your working equipment.
- You can talk to an OSHA inspector when he or she visits your workplace. Your employer cannot request that you don’t speak to visiting OSHA inspectors.
- You can report an injury or illness that you or one of your coworkers sustains. Your employer should not discourage you from reporting worksite incidents.
- You can review your employer’s records of any work-related injuries or illnesses. Your employer cannot prevent you from seeing these records.
If you suspect that your working conditions or the equipment your employer provides you are unsafe, often the best course of action is to bring the issue to the attention of your employer. Your employer can then correct the issue so that all employees can work safely.
However, if your employer fails to restore safe working conditions, you have the right to file a confidential complaint with OSHA and request a safety inspection. OSHA inspectors will then visit your workplace and ensure that your employer complies with their safety standards.
OSHA also protects workers who file complaints from any retaliation by their employers. For example, if you ask for an OSHA inspection and your employer gets fined for not complying with OSHA safety standards, your employer cannot demote you or fire you for reporting the situation.
This whistleblower rule ensures that workers feel empowered to protect themselves and their coworkers from having to work in unsafe conditions. If you ever get punished at work after filing a complaint with OSHA, you can report the retaliation to OSHA. OSHA will pursue further legal action against your employer.
Prepare for a Career in HVAC or Electrical Work
The information in this blog is a short summary of the basics you need to know about OSHA before you begin work as an electrician or an HVAC technician. During your technical training, you will receive more detailed information about how OSHA applies to your work. If you have specific questions about OSHA, ask one of your teachers.
Once you become familiar with OSHA and how it applies to you, you’ll be more protected as you work, and you’ll be prepared to act if you ever need to.