Compliance Assistance Specialist Mark F. Harmon of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Erie office recently explained the organization's jurisdiction and procedures to members of the Elk County Gas Task Force.
"OSHA is an agency within the Department of Labor. We have the responsibility, we cover workplace safety. The first thing that we would have to establish is that we have a company and we have an employee working for that company. We’re concerned about the employee’s safety," Harmon said.
According to Harmon, nearly all private-sector employers and employees in the 50 U.S. states and the Virgin Island, Guam, and Puerto Rico are covered under OSHA standards. However, he said there are some people and situations that are not subject to OSHA inspection, including the self-employed.
"We have to have a company, and we have to have an employee. And if I don’t have that, then I don’t have jurisdiction," Harmon said. "The self-employed-- if you own the business, you are self-employed, so I can’t regulate your work activity.”
He equated this to a person working in his garage at home.
"You’re not an employer. You’re not an employee. I have no jurisdiction," Harmon said.
He noted that although OSHA standards generally do not cover the self-employed, there are some situations where a person would fall under regulation.
"Sometimes people misunderstand when we say, ‘Well, if you’re self-employed, we don’t have any jurisdiction.’ Say if you own that small company, don’t have any employees, but now you take yourself and you say, ‘I want to bid this job over here,’ whether it be an oil and gas location or a petrochemical refinery, now you’re working here. You’re still self-employed," Harmon said. "If I were to see that person doing something that may be inconsistent with an OSHA standard, I don’t have the ability to inspect or to cite that person, but whoever hired them, they’re the employer. So do you see how we would make that connection?”
Harmon also explained how some industries and workplaces are regulated by other federal agencies rather than OSHA.
"We have some other agencies in the federal government that take over where we don’t have jurisdiction, one of them being mine workers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a deep mine, it can be a surface mine-- MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration)," Harmon said. "If you’re a truck driver, DOT (Department of Transportation) is going to have jurisdiction over trucking work, on any type of over-the-road activity. [Certain] transportation workers, that’s the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration); atomic energy, the DOE (Department of Energy) or the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission). Navigable waterways up in Erie, Lake Erie, ships come across the water-- I can’t touch that. But if that same ship though comes into port and they tie it up, and we have a repair station up there, it now becomes an OSHA issue because they’re working on it outside of the water.”
He said public-sector employees are also exempt from OSHA standards. The public sector includes state, municipal and county employees; police officers; firefighters; and teachers.
Pick up a copy of the Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.