Students, Volunteers in Health Care Not Covered by OSHA

July 29, 1999
Issue: The management of your hospital has decided to implement a "job-shadowing" program for high school and college students. Under this program, each student volunteer is assigned to a nurse. The student follows the nurse to learn about the health care profession. Job-shadowing is intended to help students hone their career objectives and select a career major. Do the workplace safety standards promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cover these students?

Answer: The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 extends only to employees of an organization. Students volunteering and/or learning in a state or regional hospital or other health care institution are not considered employees because the students receive no payment of wage or salary. Therefore, the students are not covered by OSHA regulations. In addition, high school, college, or professional nursing students are not considered employees of a hospital.

Similarly, participants of a job-shadowing program, which involves no payment of wage or salary, are not considered employees. OSHA coverage includes all employers and their employees either directly by federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program. Employers are advised to check with local, municipal, and state authorities to learn of the provisions under other laws that may cover the students or volunteers in a health care setting.

To determine whether an employer-employee relationship exists, OSHA considers the following factors:

  1. whom the employee considers to be his employer;
  2. who pays the employee's wages;
  3. who is responsible for controlling the employee's activities;
  4. who has the power, as opposed to the responsibility, to control the employee; and
  5. who has the power to fire the employee or to modify the employee's employment conditions.

Although students are not themselves cover by OSHA standards, employers are advised to ensure that student volunteers do not engage in unsafe practices that could endanger the safety and health of regular employees.

Cite: OSHA Standards Interpretation and Compliance Letter, March 5, 1999.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.