General Duty Clause
29 U.S.C. § 654 General Duty Clause of the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act states:
- 5(a)1: 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.”
- 5(a)2: Each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.
- 5(b): Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.
Even if an OSHA standard does not directly address the hazard, it is still necessary to be protected from the hazard. It is also possible to follow all the rules and still be exposed to a hazard. Unfortunately, people die every day while following OSHA regulations. The General Duty Clause covers all hazards on the job that do not have a specific standard.
One way to think about the General Duty Clause is that it provides some extra protection for you. If there is a hazard on your jobsite for which OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard, your employer still has an obligation to protect you from it if it is a serious and recognized hazard.
We also need to take a look at paragraph (b) of the General Duty Clause. This paragraph states: “Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.” That means, under the act, once your employer tells you how to recognize and control a hazard, you have a legal duty to do just that. No, you won’t be fined. The government only fines employers. In reality, fines eat into profits for companies, and fewer profits mean fewer employee benefits. So, follow safety rules and if you see something that isn’t safe, say something.
We all have a crucial role to play in preventing accidents. We have the power to decide whether or not to work safely with every action we take. Despite the many safety standards to prevent injuries, we are responsible for our well-being. The people around us will be affected by the decisions we make.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause is designed to be a catch-all. We should all make it our catch-all as well. Even if there isn’t a rule, we should still work safely. When you see or foresee a situation that could lead to a serious injury, illness, or fatality, you should do something to prevent it! Don’t wait for an accident to happen! Stop the work and move people out of harm’s way until a supervisor or competent person can decide the next steps.
Remember we have a unique perspective on safety and working conditions. We see hazards sooner and more clearly than management. It’s our responsibility to report and explain any hazardous conditions so everyone stays safe.