In modern parlance, it is not unusual for many businessmen to chafe at the idea of regulation. Why should they be required to follow so many rules, when business is already so complex and businessmen are already so smart? Shouldn’t they just let the market decide? The thing is, many of the rules are in place for a good reason. Just as Mom told you not to go for the cookie jar so that you wouldn’t fall, many of OSHA’s regulations are in place not just to protect the worker, but to protect their employer in the event of a potential lawsuit. As such, smart employers don’t just hang up a few federal compliance posters
and call it done. They make sure they are OSHA compliant, so that if the worst happens, they can prove in a court of law that it isn’t their fault.
The first way that OSHA helps out employers is by giving them an affirmative defense against allegations of negligence. The standard of negligence is that of the “reasonable man,” i.e. what does the jury think that a reasonable person would do in a given circumstance. This is an amorphous standard, subject to much twisting and turning in court, but one thing is for certain: the “reasonable man” always follows the laws and regulations pertinent to his industry, employment or occupation. As such, a company which sticks to OSHA guidelines can assert that in the event of an accident or injury they were doing what was reasonable by sticking to the rules. This makes it very hard to prove that they were being unreasonable, since clearly they were doing everything they knew they were expected to do in order to prevent injury.
The second way that OSHA compliance helps employers is in the legal realm of causation. When employees or customers sue because of an injury or defect, they must prove causation – i.e. that, but for the defendant’s action, they would not have been harmed. OSHA compliance helps to prove that causation lies elsewhere by giving the defendant company an assertion that they followed the rules, and so someone else must have done the “bad act” which caused the injury or defect. After all, if the supposedly bad action is within OSHA’s guidelines, then how can it have been bad or incorrect?
The third way that OSHA compliance helps employers is that it prevents them from getting harassed by OSHA itself. While OSHA inspections tend to be rare in the modern workplace, they are likely to be called in to exert pressure during labor disputes, contract negotiations or the production of new products. Immense fines or even the loss of a license can result from seemingly minor (but in fact potentially lethal) violations, and the best way to avoid them is to not have them in the first place.
OSHA’s rules exist for a reason, and study after study shows that the benefits they provide in time not lost to injury and lawsuits makes them more than worth complying with. It’s penny-wise and dollar-foolish to ignore them, since massive fines or even debilitating tort lawsuits can result. Following them allows for affirmative defenses against most tort cases involving workplace injury, and it may even allow for special discounts on worker’s compensation insurance or other insurance programs. So don’t just stop at hanging a few federal or state labor law posters. Get out on the shop floor and make sure that OSHA rules and regulations are followed.