Overview: OSHA's General Duty Clause is a mandate that states any obvious workplace safety or health hazard that is likely to cause an injury is a violation of the OSH Act. This broad provision makes it possible for employers to be fined for things that are not actually explicitly required in the law or regulations.
There are many hazards that OSHA can and will find to be a violation of the Act without an explicit standard on the topic. For example, there is no federal OSH Act standard regulating ergonomics in the workplace. OSHA, though, can use the General Duty Clause to find that an employer has violated the law if it sees that a workplace is not ergonomically friendly and employees are being injured or likely will be injured because of this condition.
To find a violation of the General Duty Clause, OSHA only has to decide that a hazard exists about which the employer should be aware and the hazard either did or is likely to cause an injury or death. This law makes sure employers keep health and safety a top priority in the workplace.
Trends: OSHA has found texting while driving a violation of the General Duty Clause. If OSHA decides that an employer is requiring, or even encouraging, workers to text while driving, a fine under the General Duty Clause may be forthcoming.
Author: Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, JD, Legal Editor
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Updated to reflect amendments relating to the use of mobile electronic devices while driving, effective February 23, 2020.
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HR guidance on the OSHA General Duty Clause.