No matter where you work, you're entitled to working conditions that are free of dangerous hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides safety guidelines to employers in all industries. Business owners and managers are required to comply with these guidelines.
If you're aware of safety violations in your workplace, you have the right to request they be corrected, and to report the violations to OSHA without fear of being punished by your employer. When you face injury or illness at work due to unsafe conditions, it may be up to you to take action to ensure your safety and the safety of your coworkers.
Worker Rights Under OSHA Guidelines
Workers in industries such as construction, assembly, and food service face many dangers on a daily basis. Some of these dangers are inherent to the nature of the work, but it's up to your employer to make sure all required safeguards are in place so that the work is as safe as possible.
As a worker, OSHA guarantees certain rights for your protection, including the right to:
- Be trained in a language you understand
- Work on safe machines
- Be provided required safety gear, such as gloves, or a harness and lifeline for fall prevention
- Be protected from toxic chemicals
- Request an OSHA inspection, and the opportunity to speak to the inspector
- Report an injury or illness, and get copies of your medical records
- See copies of the workplace injury and illness log
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses
- Get copies of results for any tests conducted to find hazards in the workplace
Federal law permits you to report your employer for violation of these rights without fear of retaliation. Specifically, the law protects you from the following employer actions:
- Applying or issuing a policy which provides for an unfavorable personnel action due to activity protected by a whistleblower law enforced by OSHA
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denying benefits
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Firing or laying off
- Making threats
- Reassignment to a less desirable position, including one adversely affecting prospects for promotion
- Reducing pay or hours
If you believe your employer engaged in any of these actions in response to you reporting a safety violation, you also have a right to file a complaint with OSHA.
Reporting Employer Retaliation
Reporting a violation of your rights to OSHA is simply a matter of sending your complaint to the appropriate office. You should be aware of the time limit for reporting, which differs depending on which federal act applies to your industry. For example, you have 30 days to report a violation of the OSHA Act, but 180 days to report a violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. Learn more about whistleblower rights.
An employee can file a complaint with OSHA by visiting or calling the local office or sending a written complaint to the closest OSHA regional or area office. The Administration accepts written complaints by email, fax, personal delivery, or U.S. mail. No particular form is required and complaints may be submitted in any language.
Your complaint will be reviewed, investigated and, if your employer is found to be at fault, a representative from OSHA will issue an order requiring the employer to make amends by reinstating you, paying wages, restoring benefits, or other remedies.
Common OSHA Violations
Many workers aren't aware of all of the OSHA's safety requirements for their industry, but OSHA doesn't require that you know the specific safety rule that was violated by your employer. Any situation that's resulted in injuries to workers, or simply doesn't feel safe, may be reported without fear of retaliation. Being aware of common safety hazards may help you understand the protections to which you're entitled.
The following are the top ten violations reported to OSHA each year:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Respiratory protection
- Powered industrial trucks
- Machine guarding
- Electrical wiring
- Electrical, general requirements
If violation of these or any other safety expectation leads to your injury, you're eligible for workers’ compensation. If your employer denies your claim, you may need the help of a workers’ comp attorney. Please contact our office to share your workplace injury story and see if we can help.