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The Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA“) requires employers to:
- provide workplaces free of “recognized safety hazards” that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm
- tell you if you are working with hazardous materials
- give you any special training necessary to do your job safely
- keep records of all workplace injuries, deaths and any exposures to toxic or hazardous materials
As an employee, you have the right under OSHA to question unsafe conditions and request inspections, as well as file a lawsuit to get a court order to correct unsafe conditions without retaliation.
In general, there are hundreds of OSHA safety standards covering:
- Storage of hazardous materials
- Fire protection, including sprinklers, emergency exits and emergency plans
- Protective equipment such as safety glasses and clothing
- First aid and medical treatment where injuries are likely to occur
- Equipment performance and maintenance
If you feel unsafe in your workplace or are injured at work:
- Let your supervisor know of the hazard that concerns you
- If your supervisor doesn’t respond promptly, put your concerns in writing.
- OSHA regulations allow you to walk off the job if there is an “immediate and substantial danger.”
- If the safety hazard remains, file a complaint with your local Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office, listed under the “U.S. Labor Department” or “Occupational Safety and Health” in the federal government section of your local phone book.
- File a complaint with any appropriate local or state government agency, depending on the particular safety concern (for example, hazardous waste or building construction violations).
- If OSHA sends out an inspector, you should cooperate with the inspector doing what’s called an on-site safety “walk around” in your workplace.
- If you’re injured, make sure workers’ comp claims processors know your injury stemmed from a possible violation of state or OSHA safety laws (which may make you eligible for more workers’ compensation).
OSHA can order your employer to repair unsafe equipment, clean cluttered areas, put new storage or other procedures in place or remove all workers from the area where the danger exists.
If necessary, OSHA can ask a court to order your employer to follow OSHA standards for workplace safety.
Protection Against Retaliation
OSHA laws protect you from being fired or disciplined if you’ve:
- Filed a complaint with OSHA about unsafe working conditions, talked with an OSHA inspector during an inspection or otherwise cooperated with an OSHA investigation.
- Refused to work in conditions that were likely to cause your injury or death.
Generally, you can’t be fired or disciplined for refusing to do work if:
- A “reasonable person” in your position would conclude there’s a real danger of injury or death
- You’ve complained to your employer and nothing has been done
- There’s no time to go through the usual OSHA procedures
If you feel your employer has retaliated against you because you have reported safety violations, you should report your concerns to the Department of Labor and OSHA within 30 days of the retaliatory action, in order to be protected under OSHA laws.
If investigators determine that your firing or discipline was retaliatory, OSHA will require your employer to restore your lost benefits.