Who is Not Covered by OSHA?

Who is Not Covered by OSHA?

There are some categories of workers not covered by OSHA and other members of a workforce are only covered in specific roles. Still otheremployees are only covered in specific states or industries.

This can be very confusing, so this article looks at who is covered by OSHA regulations, this mainly falls into the following areas:

  1. Volunteers & Temporary Workers
  2. Self Employed Workers
  3. Family Members of Farm Employers
  4. Industries Regulated by Another Agency
  5. State and Local Government Employees


Volunteers are usually not covered by OSHA, but there are exceptions to this. For example, volunteer firefighters may be covered if they are financially compensated for time spent on the activity, they are covered by workers’ compensation, or they are regarded as public employees by the state or local government with jurisdiction over the location they volunteer in.

There are also some special cases in which an agency has adopted an OSHA standard and  decided to include volunteers in the coverage. For example, when the Environmental Protection Agency adopted OSHA’s Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response standard, the Agency applied the standard to both paid and unpaid workers.

Temporary Workers

Temporary workers that are paid by an employer or a contract agency are classified as employees and covered by OSHA. It is important to note that, regardless of who the payer is, if a temporary worker is assigned a job by a staffing agency, both the employer and staffing agency are accountable for the safety and health of the employee.

If, as is commonly the case, a workforce consists of both paid employees and volunteers, the workplace must comply with OSHA standards. Therefore, if a volunteer suffers an injury in a workplace accident that could have happened to a paid employee, the employer could still be cited by OSHA.

Self Employed People

A large category of workers not covered by OSHA is the self-employed. This includes freelancers, independent contractors, and anyone else who works for themselves. Self-employed individuals do not have employees of their own. As such, OSHA’s standards, which were designed to protect employees from unsafe working conditions, do not usually apply.

There are some exceptions. In the same way as an employer has to provide a safe working environment for volunteers when other members of the workforce are paid employees, employers must provide a safe working environment to self-employed individuals when they engage in work on premises.

Complications can arise when one self-employed individual subcontracts another self-employed individual to work with them or on their premises. In thesecases, OSHA standards should not apply because both individuals are self-employed. Depending on the nature of the work and the state regulations, some OSHA standards may be applicable.

Family Members of Farm Employees

The applicability of OSHA standards to farms is not clear cut particularly where family members of farm employees are involved. Generally, farms with fewer than eleven employees are not covered by OSHA, and OSHA considers nuclear family to be excluded from the employee count.

This does not mean that farms are devoid of all responsibility for the safety of their family members working there. Farms are encouraged to follow best practices in agricultural safety, and OSHA provides resources and guidelines to support this. Furthermore, certain regulations, such as those pertaining to labor camps, accidents, and hazardous substances, may still apply.

There are exceptions to this exclusion category. If a temporary labor camp is set up on a farm, or an employee – including family members –  has a fatal accident or sustains an injury that results in hospitalization, amputation, or the loss of an eye, temporary compliance with OSHA’s standards and reporting requirements apply.

Industries Regulated by Another Agency

Certain specific industries and workplaces are regulated by other federal agencies. In such cases, businesses in these industries and their workplaces are not covered by OSHA. Some examples include:

  • Mining and milling operations fall under the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). However, OSHA standards may apply for some product types and post-mining processes (see Appendix B of the MSHA and OSHA Memorandum)
  • Flight crews when an aircraft is in flight. These are overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, FAA oversight does not apply to cabin crews pertaining to noise, hazard communication, and bloodborne pathogens.
  • Safety and health of seamen aboard vessels is regulated by the Department of Transportation’s Coast Guard agency. However, OSHA has the authority to enforce standards relating to discrimination and whistleblowing according to 1983 Memorandum.
  • Workers in publicly owned energy sectors that may be exposed to ionizing radiation are covered by safety standards regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy. All privately owned businesses in the energy sector are subject to OSHA standards.

State and Local Government Employees

Whilst federal government employees are protected by OSHA, the situation differs for state and local government employees – including those in public schools and universities. OSHA only covers these employees in certain states that have an OSHA-approved state plan. In other states, the safety and health of public sector workers falls under the jurisdiction of the state jurisdiction.

In 28 states and territories, the safety and health standards for state and local government employees are overseen by OSHA approved state plans. Where state plans only apply to state and local government employees, federal OSHA standards apply to private employment. State plans are required to have standards and enforcement programs at least as effective as OSHA’s.

How OSHA Regulation Applies by State

Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming,

Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Northern Mariana Islands, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin

Who is Not Covered by OSHA? Conclusion

It may seem like a large proportion of the workforce are not covered by OSHA but it is important to consider the agency’s influence is huge, covering most private sector workers and federal employees throughout the USA. Also, many workers not directly covered by OSHA are protected indirectly by OSHA, a state plan, or a different agency.

So, most private and public employers need to understand their compliance requirements and ensure measures are implemented to comply with OSHA standards. Employers who are unsure of their compliance requirements should seek advice directly OSHA.

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