Q: You think your workplace is unsafe. Do you have any legal protections?
A: Yes. Your main protection is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). OSHA requires employers to protect their workers from serious hazards in the workplace. OSHA covers all kinds of hazards—from slippery floors to nuclear waste.
Q: What, specifically, does OSHA give me the right to do?
A: Specifically, OSHA guarantees you the right to:
- Get training from your employer on workplace hazards.
- Request information from your employer about OSHA standards and hazards in your workplace (29 C.F.R. 1904.7, 1910.1020).
- Request action from your employer to make the workplace safe.
- File a complaint with OSHA if you believe there are serious workplace hazards (29 U.S.C. § 657(f)).
- Be involved in OSHA’s inspection of your workplace (29 U.S.C. § 657(e)).
- Find out the results of an OSHA inspection (OSHA Directive C.P.L 2.115).
Q: Does OSHA protect all employees?
A: No. OSHA does not protect government employees, except postal employees. But OSHA protects almost all private-sector employees. Very few private companies are not covered by OSHA. Only very small, very local, private companies are not covered by OSHA.
Q: What do you do if you think your workplace is unsafe?
A: If you feel that your workplace is unsafe:
- Tell your supervisor about your concern.
- If your company doesn’t take immediate action, write down your concerns in a letter and give it to your boss.
- If your company still doesn’t take action to make your workplace safe, file a complaint with OSHA.
You can contact OSHA at:
Federal Office Building, Room 1428
1000 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222-4101
Phone: (412) 395-4903
It is important to note that you cannot sue your employer directly because your workplace is unsafe–you must go through OSHA.
Q: That seems like it could take some time. Must you go through all of those steps if there is an immediate danger?
A: No. If you believe that death or serious harm could occur within a short time, call (800) 321-OSHA immediately.
Q: Won’t your company retaliate against you if you file a complaint with OSHA?
A: By law, your employer may not retaliate against you in any way for reporting a workplace hazard (29 U.S.C. § 660(c)). Besides, you can request that complaints to OSHA be kept confidential. But, if your employer finds out that you filed a complaint, and takes action against you because of it, contact OSHA immediately and file a discrimination complaint against your employer. Be aware that you only have 30 days to file an OSHA discrimination complaint.
Q: Can I be fired if I refuse to do something that I think may be unsafe?
A: Usually you can. Normally, OSHA will not protect you from being fired for refusing to do something at work that you think may be unsafe. (However, if you’re in a union, your collective bargaining agreement may grant you this right.) But there are some circumstances under which OSHA protects you when you refuse to do a job.
Under OSHA, you may refuse to do something if all of the following conditions are met:
- Where possible, you asked your employer to fix the hazard and they did not.
- You genuinely believe that an immediate danger exists.
- Most people would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury.
- There isn’t enough time to get the hazard corrected through the normal process of filing an OSHA complaint.