Rights, Policies OSHA: Dealing With Workplace Safety and Health Issues

  1. This article explains your legal rights and provides information about what to do when conditions in your workplace pose a risk to health and safety which may result in personal injury.

    What is OSHA?

    The OSH Act (Occupational Safety and Health Act) establishes your rights when it comes to health and safety in the workplace. On the job risk is handled in a manner is dependent upon the level of how serious and how immediate potential dangers pose to employees.

    Must You Work if There Are Dangerous Job Conditions?

    You have the right to refuse to work if you feel that your life is in immediate danger because of an on the job hazard or unsafe condition in your place of work. If a safety concern that involves an “immediate danger” on the job exists, you should call the emergency number of the Department of Labor OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) hotline at (800) 321-OSHA (6742). In the event urgent medical attention might be required, you would be advised to call emergency services (911) to obtain immediate assistance.

    Before calling OSHA, you should determine whether the following conditions are met that would mean that “immediate danger” is present at work:
    • You feel that you could be at risk of death or serious injury if you were to carry out the duties of your job
    • Your employer is refusing to resolve the issue
    • There would not be enough time to solve the problem in another way such as having an OSHA agent to carry out an inspection
    Even if the danger is not life threatening, in some states you can still refuse to work. You should contact the labor department in your own state to find out your rights when it comes to health and safety in the workplace.

    Dangerous Conditions that Don’t Pose Imminent Harm

    If there is a dangerous condition at work that does not pose imminent or immediate harm is to speak directly to your employer to request that the issue be resolved. Your employer may not be aware of the problem and may be quick to resolve the issue. It is important that you document everything relating to the problem such as the date that you made the request and the name of the person who received your request. You should also write a summary of the conversation that took place for your own records and later recollection. If you are afraid of approaching your employer, you still can contact OSHA instead or a similar agency in your state that deals with on the job safety.

    What about the situation where you have discussed a dangerous work condition with your employer but nothing is done to your satisfaction? What if your employer has retaliated against you for making the complaint? In either case, you can go directly to OSHA to complain. It is possible to file an online complaint with the OSHA by visiting the OSHA website which is located at www.osha.gov. The OSHA website contains significant information about how to file a complaint, which you can do anonymously. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for exercising health and safety rights by both state and federal law.

    If you feel that you have suffered from a personal injury from a dangerous condition at work or that you are in danger of imminent harm, you may also wish to consult with an experienced employment attorney.
    Employment & Labor:
    OSHA - Occupational Safety & Health Administration

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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