What is CAL/OSHA? Difference Between California and Federal OSHA

January 27, 2023

What is CAL OSHA?

DOSH, also referred to as CAL/OSHA, stands for “The Division of Occupational Safety and Health of California.” It was formed shortly after federal OSHA was formed, three years later in 1973 under the California Occupational Safety & Health Act. It includes a state plan that has been approved by federal OSHA and has primary jurisdiction over safety and health standards and regulations in California. 

CAL/OSHA has its own standards of safety and training that vary slightly from the standards of OSHA. Since there are different working conditions and industries in California that necessitate specific work standards, CAL/OSHA exists as a state plan in accordance with the federal standards of OSHA. 

Safety is Still The Top Priority

Even though there are differences in how federal and state standards regulate the workplace, safety is still the top priority. The differences between OSHA and CAL/OSHA do not allow for a reduction in the number of safety precautions and measures that are taken in the workplace. 

For example, of all states in the nation, CAL OSHA conducted the largest number of inspections with 7,571 in the year 2019. During these inspections in the same year, CAL/OSHA was able to identify around 18,896 workplace hazards. In doing so, California, and other states under state plans, show that safety is still the top priority for their workers even under different standards. 

State Plans Standards

State plans are not completely separate from the standards established by OSHA. In fact, state plans are required at the bare minimum to follow OSHA standards. They are in no way allowed to cut corners or reduce the severity of OSHA standards. 

They operate by individual states or U.S. territories rather than solely on OSHA programs. State plans have to be approved by OSHA, and OSHA regulations and standards act as baseline requirements for their plans. This means that state plans can do the following:

  • Create additional safety requirements and policies
  • Impose higher fines and penalties
  • Create their own system for review and appeal of citations 

Of all 50 states, 22 of them are covered by state plans for both private sector, state, and local government employees. California is one of those 22 states that is covered by a state plan. 

OSHA provides both funding and coverage for those excluded from state plans. For example, a state may exclude the agriculture industry from its state plan but it will still be covered by OSHA. OSHA also evaluates state plans annually through the Federal Annual Monitoring Evaluation (FAME) process to determine whether or not the state plan is as effective as OSHA at the minimum. 

What are the Differences Between OSHA and CAL/OSHA?

Most state plans are closely modeled by federal OSHA regulations. California, however, varies from federal OSHA standards and that is why DOSH (CAL/OSHA) was established. There are many small differences between the two that can’t be covered here in their entirety. However, there are also some significant differences regarding safety regulations that are important to know. Some examples include: 

  • The Injury and Illness Prevention Standard – This is a specific, systematic approach that California takes towards assessing and correcting workplace hazards that federal OSHA does not. It is similar to a Safety Management System (SMS) recommended by OSHA but is required by CAL/OSHA in the form of a written Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). 
  • The Ergonomic Standard – California mandates an employer to implement a Repetitive Motion Injury (RMI) Prevention Program when two or more employees in their workplace develop repetitive motion injuries. 
  • Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) Regulations – These regulations require health care workers to take additional steps to ensure the containment of diseases. Employers at medical and dental facilities are required to create an ATD Exposure Control Plan. 
  • Sharps Injury Report Information – Concerning bloodborne pathogen standards, California requires more information for selecting and evaluating procedures for sharp needles. This information also needs to be contained in the sharps injury report itself. 
  • Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) – This practice was discontinued by OSHA some time after being established in 1970, but was continued by California. These are limits that California monitors for acceptable levels of chemicals in the workplace.  

The list goes on, but it’s sufficient to note that California requires additional clarification and regulation to ensure employee safety. 

Why Does California Have its Own Standards?

As mentioned above, there are benefits to a state plan over the federal OSHA plan alone. California has elected to create a state plan likely because of the high employee density, as well as unique workplaces and industries within the state. Some of these unique workplaces and industries include standards that add additional safety measures for:

  • Riding in elevators
  • Amusement park rides such as rollercoasters
  • Aerial transportation, such as tramways and ski lifts
  • Pressure vessel units such as boilers and vents 
  • Prevention of spreading COVID-19 

Having stricter standards is not needed in every state; but in California, it was deemed necessary. California also has its own standards because it needs to be more responsive and understanding of local needs. Under a state plan, they are able to constantly update and adjust their standards as needed. 

There is a higher number of public sector employees in California as well, which federal OSHA does not always cover. The state plan covers these employees and adds additional protection for them. 

Does CAL OSHA Require Additional Training?

California does mandate additional training beyond OSHA’s regulatory training. The state plan requirements have more rigorous standards for industries such as the California construction workforce. Most of these trainings are required specifically for workers and managers who will need to identify, avoid, and correct workplace hazards. 

The specific training CAL/OSHA requires will vary based on the workplace. Most workplaces under California state jurisdiction will require a CAL/OSHA 10-hour or 30-hour training course. Certain occupations or operations within each industry will also require specific training to CAL/OSHA standards. 

These trainings are available through online third-party retailers who provide training courses that are compliant with CAL/OSHA standards. For more information, browse our selection of CAL/OSHA Aligned training courses.

Does CAL OSHA or Federal OSHA Have Jurisdiction Over Workplaces in California?

State plans allow for the state organizations to act as the primary jurisdiction over all workplaces within their state so long as they are approved by federal OSHA. This means that CAL/OSHA is in charge of overseeing health and safety practices throughout all workplaces in California. This makes that CAL/OSHA is responsible for: 

  • Complaint and accident investigations filed by employees or law enforcement
  • Inspections, both routine and on request
  • Permits, certifications, licenses, etc. for major work activities in construction and use of certain machinery
  • Orders Prohibiting Use (OPUs) for present, potential hazards
  • Citations and orders to take special action after investigation of workplaces hazards

There are some areas and workplaces that remain under the jurisdiction of federal OSHA primarily. Some of these areas under federal OSHA jurisdiction in California are:

  • Employees of the United States Federal Government
  • U.S. Military private sector employers
  • United States Postal Service (USPS) contractors
  • Maritime employment (excluding maritime construction)
  • Private sector employees within national parks and government recognized Native American reservations

These areas of employment and workplaces are regulated through federal OSHA. This means that all inspections, standards, and filing of complaints are done through OSHA instead of CAL/OSHA even if they are in the state of California. Federal OSHA still retains the right to inspect and take enforcement action in California, but only under very rare circumstances. An agreement between federal and state needs to be made for this sort of action to occur.