OSHA contains a general requirement, applicable to every employer, that imposes an obligation on you to maintain a safe workplace. The general duty clause requires every employer to provide every employee with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. This obligation is an open-ended one because it is designed to protect employees in situations where there are no established standards. Thus, your potential liability under the Act is also open-ended.
OSHA also addresses identified hazardous activities or conditions through specific standards applicable to those hazards. Where the general duty clause and a specific OSHA standard address an identical hazard, you must comply with the specific standards (which are generally more stringent). However, complying with specific requirements that apply to known hazards is far easier than anticipating and correcting hazards that have yet to be officially identified. In any event, the general duty highlights the value of developing workplace safety plans in order to identify potential hazards that are unique to your workplace.
Enforcement. An employer can be found to be in violation of the general duty clause if it can be shown that:
You can anticipate some hazards that might result in a violation of the
general duty clause by looking at the emerging
issues that OSHA is investigating for purposes of proposed rulemaking. For
example, recognition of the hazards associated with office
automation (ergonomics) and workplace
violence make these hazards targets for general duty violations.