The OSHA publishes regulations relating to health and safety in the workplace, with rules that are for general industry use as well as industry-specific ones. What a lot of people �” fans and athletes alike, forget in sport is that sports teams are, at a professional level, employers. A Professional Sports Team must comply with the OSHA just like any other employer. Even at a college, university or school level, that OSHA obligation remains.
The employer/employee relationship is something that is often forgotten �” at least until something goes wrong. One high profile case took place in 2011, when a student that was filming a football practice at the University of Notre Dame was fatally injured because of an accident involving a scissor lift. The University faced citations for violation of the OSHA standards in Indiana. They made a settlement with the Indiana OSHA, and paid a $42,000. They also published a website that highlights the potential dangers associated with aerial lifts.
The OSHA may not be the first group that you would think of regarding the regulation of sports �” there are plenty of other national and international governing bodies that work on the practice of sport, safety and prevention of overuse injuries, and in regulating how competitive sports are performed. However, there is a lot more to sport than just the player to player interaction and the role of the referee. Spectators, filming practice, field maintenance, and the operation of machinery and the venue itself are all things that must be considered when taking care of players, employees and spectators. This is where the OSHA comes in. The OSHA are intended to help organisations stay accident free at every level �” not just for the athletes.
What is the OSHA’s Remit?
One thing that many people wonder about is the remit of the OSHA �” do they, for example, have the ability to press for improvements to the equipment that is used by players in professional games. The answer to this is complex. Firstly, the OSHA has to determine whether there is an employer-employee relationship between the sportspeople and the organisation that they are playing with or for. This determination is something which is always made on a case by case basis �” and in general a professional athlete is not considered to be an employee under the criteria that the OSHA uses. This means that something like the safety of the equipment that the player is using (bats, balls, the shoes that they wear is not covered by the OSHA. There are other laws that cover the manufacture and sale of equipment and those laws may apply when it comes to ensuring that the equipment is safe and fit for purpose.
The OSHA does not consider the safety of spectators in a broad sense. It does require that the environment is safe for employees and something that could injure a spectator may also injure an employee, but spectator-specific hazards are not something that would be directly covered.
As you can see, the law is complex, and if you run a sports promotion or a sports team then it is a good idea to seek professional advice to determine whether or not you are fulfilling your responsibilities. Indeed, it is well worth assessing the grounds and the set up of your training facilities in general health and safety terms �” not just because of the OSHA, but also because of the impact on amateur players, and on spectators as well.
We may think of health and safety as being a symptom of the “nanny state”, but this is an unfair assessment of something that can protect people from life-changing or even life ending injuries. Some small and simple precautions are often all that it takes to ensure that risky activities become lower risk, and to allow people to practice their chosen sports in safety and confidence. Getting all of your players and coaches on board is an important part of what it takes to make your club or facility a good place to train and compete. The OSHA can offer some basic guidance on that, but the rest must come from inside the club or from your sport’s governing body.