State Plan States
The starting point for understanding the Act’s requirements is the general-duty clause: “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” (Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970). It represents a catchall means for OSHA to enforce basic safety in the workplace on matters concerning which OSHA has not promulgated a specific standard. Currently, OSHA enforcement of tuberculosis prevention is based in part on the authority of the general-duty clause (Occupational Exposure to Tuberculosis, 1997).
When OSHA concludes that a workplace hazard is best addressed by a specific standard, it initiates the rulemaking process to promulgate a standard. The standards that OSHA adopts require a specific plan to abate workplace risks through use of protective equipment, environmental controls, workplace practices, or a combination of these measures. Standards may be designed to prevent a particular hazard or protect against a type of hazard existing throughout many industries. For example, parts of OSHA’s current regulation of TB risk come under existing general industry standards that require employers “to provide respiratory protection equipment” (29 C.F.R. 1910.34) and use “accident prevention tags to warn of biological hazards” (29 C.F.R. 1910.145 (f)). The proposed rule to regulate occupational exposure to tuberculosis is hazard specific. Where a hazard is covered by more than one OSHA standard, the employer must adhere to the standard most specifically designed to address the hazard (29 C.F.R. 1910.12; Rothstein, 1998).