Chemical Resistant

What exactly are the basic requirements of OSHA for employers?

What are the penalties for non-compliance? Do you think OSHA is needed and why?

Basically what OSHA does is to oversee safety on the job. It is a very necessary agency (though some would disagree) because in general, employers are usually more concerned about making money than keeping their workers safe.
What they do is to visit jobsites and make sure that all safety procedures are being followed. They concern themselves with everything from handrails and safety barriers to whether there is water available on the job. Especially in construction, it costs money to make sure the jobsite is completely safe, so many contractors cut corners to save money. In the end, they pay more out in fines and injury claims than it would have cost them to safeguard the jobsite.
To say what the basic requirements are is like asking how many flavors of jelly beans there are. It depends on the job as to what they require. If it's work off the ground, there has to be a certain standard of scaffolding in place; if it's demolition, there has to be respirators, gloves, boots, and hardhats.
In my business, which is temporary staffing, we are required to make sure that any worker sent out has gloves, safety glasses, hardhats, steel-toed boots that cover the ankle, long pants of a sturdy material (jeans), and a shirt with at least a 4" sleeve. Depending on what type of job, that may be increased to safety harnesses with lanyards, back supports, respirators, ear plugs, chemical resistant gloves/safety glasses/boots, long sleeve shirts, etc.
If it weren't for OSHA, there would be many more injuries and casualties on jobsites around the U.S. While many employers can't stand the requirements, and I agree that some of them seem like overkill and unnecessary, they are a very important outside impartial safeguard against workers being hurt and killed just because their employer didn't care enough to make their job safe.
Penalties can range anywhere from small to large fines, to a complete shut-down of the jobsite, to imprisonment in the most severe or repeated cases.

Edit: While going on about employers, I failed to point out one very significant fact: employers are not the only reason that OSHA is necessary. Employees are a very big factor in their own demise. Horseplay and failure to wear the correct safety equipment (mostly because some of it is bothersome) accounts for a large number of injuries (and deaths) each year. This is directly a result of the employee to follow the required safety guidelines. Employers can't keep an eye on every employee all the time on a large jobsite, because they're busy taking care of keeping the site running. OSHA can find areas where the employees are violating the safety guidelines and will advise the employer to bring those employees into compliance. Usually the employee gets terminated since they are all aware of the guidelines. Many employees make claims against workers' compensation insurance each year only to have it denied because after investigation, it is found out that had they followed the safety guidelines concerning attitude, behavior, and equipment, they never would have been injured or killed in the first place.

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