Rights and Responsibilities

The OSH Act of 1970

You have a right to a safe and healthful workplace.

OSHA was created to provide workers the right to a safe and healthful workplace. Let's look at what the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) says about employer and employee duties.

OSH Act of 1970 Section 5(a) Duties - General Duty Clause.

(a) Each employer --

  • (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
  • (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

(b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

1. OSHA's "General Duty Clause" states the employer must protect employees from _____.

a. dangerous hazards
b. serious hazards
c. all hazards
d. recognized hazards

"Recognized" Hazards

Is there a recognized hazard here? Absolutely.

Occasionally, students ask what is considered a "recognized" hazard in the workplace. As described in OSHA's Field Compliance Manual, recognition of a hazard is established on the basis of industry recognition, employer recognition, or "common sense" recognition criteria. Let's take a closer look at these three categories to better understand what OSHA means.

  • Industry Recognition. A hazard is recognized if the employer's industry recognizes it.
  • Employer Recognition. A recognized hazard can be established by evidence of actual employer knowledge. Evidence may consist of previous written or oral statements by managers, supervisors, and employees clearly recognizing the hazard.
  • Common Sense Recognition. If industry or employer recognition of the hazard cannot be established, recognition can still be established if it is concluded that any reasonable person would have recognized the hazard. This argument is used by OSHA only in flagrant cases.

2. During an inspection, the OSHA compliance officer cited a machine guarding violation which had been previously reported to a supervisor. Under which criteria is hazard recognition established?

a. Employee recognition
b. Industry recognition
c. Common sense recognition
d. Employer recognition

Employer Responsibilities

Employers have obligations to employees.

According to the OSHAct, employers must provide employees a workplace free from recognized hazards. Specifically, OSHA standards mandate that employers must:

  • Provide a workplace free from recognized hazards and comply with OSHA standards
  • Provide training required by OSHA standards
  • Keep records of injuries and illnesses
  • Set up a reporting system;
    • Provide copies of logs (i.e., OSHA 300), upon request; Post the annual summary;
    • Report within 8 hours any work-related fatalities and within 24 hours, all work-related: inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye.
  • Provide medical exams when required by OSHA standards and provide workers access to their exposure and medical records
  • Not discriminate against workers who exercise their rights under the Act
  • Post OSHA citations and abatement verification notices
  • Provide and pay for most Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

3. Which of the following is a fundamental employer obligation under the OSHAct of 1970?

a. Provide social justice to the workplace.
b. Provide training required by OSHA standards.
c. Ensure all injuries are reported to OSHA.
d. Share costs of PPE with employees.

Worker Rights

The OSHA Poster

Under OSHA law, you are entitled to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. Workers have certain rights, under OSHA law, and employers have certain responsibilities.

Workers have the right to:

  • A safe and healthful workplace.
  • Be free from retaliation for exercising safety and health rights.
  • Raise a safety or health concern with your employer or OSHA, or report a work-related injury or illness, without being retaliated against.
  • Receive information and training on job hazards, including all hazardous substances in your workplace.
  • Request an OSHA inspection of your workplace if you believe there are unsafe or unhealthy conditions. OSHA will keep your name confidential. You have the right to have a representative contact OSHA on your behalf.
  • Refuse to do a task if you believe it is unsafe or unhealthful.
  • Participate (or have your representative participate) in an OSHA inspection and speak in private to the inspector.
  • File a complaint with OSHA within 30 days (by phone, online or by mail) if you have been retaliated against for using your rights.
  • See any OSHA citations issued to your employer.
  • Request copies of your medical records, tests that measure hazards in the workplace, and the workplace injury and illness log.

4. Which of the following is NOT an employee right under the OSHAct?

a. filing a complaint
b. enforcing safety rules
c. participating in an OSHA inspection
d. requesting copies of medical records

Right to Know About Hazardous Chemicals

You have a right to know about the chemicals you use at work.

More than 30 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards. There are an estimated 650,000 existing hazardous chemical products, and hundreds of new ones are being introduced annually. This poses a serious problem for exposed workers and their employers.

You have a right to know and understand the hazards of chemicals used in your workplace. To give employees the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to work with hazardous chemicals, employers must develop a written Hazard Communication Program (HCP)that includes information on:

  • the classification of health and physical hazards and chemical mixtures;
  • label, including signal words, pictograms, and hazard statements;
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) containing 16 sections of information; and
  • worker information and training on the HCP

The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) - 29 CFR 1910.1200 provides workers exposed to hazardous chemicals with the identities and hazards of those materials, as well as appropriate protective measures. When workers have such information, they can take steps to protect themselves from experiencing adverse effects from exposure.

For more information on this topic, see Course 705, Hazard Communication Program.

5. To give employees the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to work with hazardous chemicals, employers must _____.

a. require each employee to sign a chemical use agreement
b. post a list of hazardous chemicals in each facility
c. give employees a safety orientation within five days of hire
d. develop a written Hazard Communication Program (HCP)

Right to Information About Injuries/Illnesses

You have a right to know about injuries and illnesses.

OSHA’s Recordkeeping rule requires most employers with more than 10 workers to keep a log of injuries and illnesses.

  • Workers have the right to report an injury and review the current OSHA 300 log. Remember, it is against the OSHA law to retaliate or discriminate against a worker for reporting an injury or illness.
  • Workers also have the right to view the annually posted summary of the injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300A)

For more on OSHA recordkeeping download the OSHA 300, 300A and 301 forms and instructions.

Employers must report the following work-related events to OSHA:

  • fatalities
  • in-patient hospitalizations of one or more employees
  • amputations
  • loss of an eye

6. You should expect your employer to post the OSHA 300A Summary Form if the company has more than _____ employees.

a. 5
b. 10
c. 15
d. 20

Right to Complain or Request Corrections

According to OSHA law, you may bring up safety and health concerns in the workplace to your employer without fear of discharge or discrimination.

If you become aware of a hazard where you're working, be sure to notify your immediate supervisor. If you are not comfortable doing that for some reason, contact the safety manager or a member your safety committee. If employees are afraid to report their concerns about hazards and unsafe practices, there may be a fundamental lack of trust between management and labor in the organization.

OSHA rules protect workers who raise concerns to their employer or OSHA about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in the workplace.

Right to Training

Employees have a right to effective safety training.

Workers have a right to get training from employers on a variety of health and safety hazards and standards that employers must follow. No person should ever have to be injured, become ill, or die for a paycheck.

Required training covers topics such as chemical hazards, equipment hazards, noise, confined spaces, fall hazards in construction, and personal protective equipment. Training must be in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.

See OSHA's Publication 2254, Training Requirements in OSHA Standards for more information on the required training in General Industry, Maritime, Construction, Agriculture, and Federal Employee Programs.

7. If employees are afraid to report hazards to their supervisor, it may indicate _____.

a. the employees are wrong
b. the supervisor is busy
c. they don't care
d. a lack of trust

Right to Participate in OSHA Inspections

Image of inspectors
Employees have a right to participate in inspections.

When the OSHA inspector arrives, workers and their representatives have the right to talk privately with the OSHA inspector before and after the inspection.

  • A worker representative may also go along on the inspection.
  • Where there is no union or employee representative, the OSHA inspector must talk confidentially with a reasonable number of workers during the course of the investigation.
  • Workers can talk to the inspector privately.
  • They may point out hazards, describe injuries, illnesses or near misses that resulted from those hazards and describe any concern you have about a safety or health issue.
  • Workers can find out about inspection results and abatement measures, and get involved in any meetings or hearings related to the inspection.
  • Workers may object to the date set for the violation to be corrected and be notified if the employer files a contest.
Employer penalizes worker for assisting MSHA during visit.

A federal administrative law judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a company to pay a worker the company penalized for assisting federal safety investigators during a site visit. The judge also ordered the company to pay a $17,500 penalty after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration determined the company punished the worker for acting as the miners' representative, an employee representative designated to accompany and provide information to MSHA inspectors during mine inspections. Under the Mine Safety and Health Act, the miners' representative shall "suffer no loss in pay" for this work.

8. What may the OSHA inspector do if there is no employee representative participating in the inspection?

a. Talk with workers during the inspection.
b. Demand additional management representatives participate.
c. Reschedule the inspection with the employer.
d. Delay the inspection until the next day.

Right to Examine Exposure and Medical Records

Employees may view medical records.

Under OSHA’s standard 1910.1020, Access to employee exposure and medical records, employees, their designated representatives, and OSHA representatives have the right to examine and copy their own exposure and medical records, including records of workplace monitoring or measuring a toxic substance. This is important if you have been exposed to toxic substances or harmful physical agents in the workplace, as this regulation may help you detect, prevent, and treat occupational disease.

Examples of toxic substances and harmful physical agents are:

  • metals and dusts, such as, lead, cadmium, and silica;
  • biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi; and
  • physical stress, such as noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

OSHA standards require employers to measure exposure to harmful substances. "Exposure" or "exposed" means that an employee is subjected to a toxic substance or harmful physical agent in the course of employment through any route of entry (inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or absorption, etc.), and includes past exposure and potential (e.g., accidental or possible) exposure.

Workers or their representatives have the right to observe the testing and examine the results. If the exposure levels are above the limit set by the standard, the employer must tell workers what will be done to reduce their exposure.

9. According to OSHA, which of the following are records to which employees do NOT have access?

a. Toxic substance measurements
b. Exposure to toxic substances
c. Other employee records
d. Their own medical records

Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

Some jobs are so dangerous they might pose imminent danger without proper safety controls.

Workers have the right to refuse to do a job if they believe in good faith that they are exposed to an imminent danger. "Good faith" belief means that even if an imminent danger is not found to exist, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist.

Your right to refuse to do a task is protected if ALL of the following four conditions are met:

  1. Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
  2. You refused to work in "good faith." This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists; and
  3. A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
  4. There isn't enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, to get it corrected through regular enforcement channels, such as requesting an OSHA inspection.

10. Which of the following is TRUE regarding the right to refuse to do a job?

a. You must have a good faith belief you are exposed to an imminent danger.
b. You should leave the worksite after you file a complaint.
c. You can walk off the site to get an OSHA inspector.
d. You may not refuse to do a job due to an unsafe condition.
You have a right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation.

Right to File an OSHA Complaint

You may file a complaint with OSHA if you believe a violation of a safety or health standard or an imminent danger situation exists in your workplace. You may request that your name not be revealed to your employer. You can file a complaint on OSHA’s website, in writing or by calling the nearest OSHA area office. You may also call the office and speak with an OSHA compliance officer about a hazard, violation, or the process for filing a complaint.

If the above conditions are met, you should take the following steps:

  • Ask your employer to correct the hazard, or to assign other work;
  • Tell your employer that you won't perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected; and
  • Remain at the worksite until ordered to leave by your employer.

If you file a complaint, you have the right to find out OSHA’s action on the complaint and request a review if an inspection is not made.

The table below offers a few “IF/THEN” scenarios to follow.

You believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful. Call your employer's attention to the problem.
Your employer does not correct the hazard or disagrees with you about the extent of the hazard. You may file a complaint with OSHA.
Your employer discriminates against you for refusing to perform the dangerous work. Contact OSHA immediately.

11. What should you do if your employer discriminates against you for refusing to perform dangerous work?

a. File a complaint with OSHA
b. Contact OSHA immediately
c. Call your lawyer
d. Let OSHA know within 30 days

Whistleblower Protections

See something: say something.

The whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA provide that employers may not discharge or otherwise retaliate against an employee because the employee has filed a complaint or exercised any rights provided to employees. Each law requires that complaints be filed within 30 days after the alleged retaliation. Complaints may be filed orally or in writing, and OSHA will accept the complaint in any language. As a result of filing a complaint, workers cannot be subject to:

  • applying or issuing a policy which provides for an unfavorable personnel action due to activity protected by a whistleblower law enforced by OSHA
  • blacklisting, demotions, or failing to hire or rehire
  • disciplinary actions
  • denying benefits, over time or promotion
  • firing, suspending or laying off
  • intimidation or making threats
  • reassignment to a less desirable position, including one adversely affecting prospects for promotion
  • reduction in pay or hours

Help is available from OSHA: See the OSHA Fact Sheet: Your Rights as a Whistleblower for detailed information. You can review a more extensive list of statutes that contain whistleblower (anti-retaliation) provisions on the OSHA Statutes webpage.

We recommend that you announce and/or post the following:

"If you have been punished or discriminated against for using your rights, you must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged reprisal for most complaints."

No form is required, but you must send a letter or call the OSHA Area Office nearest you to report the discrimination within 30 days of the alleged discrimination.

12. Which of the following statutes provides that employers may not discharge employees because they have filed a complaint or exercised OSHA rights?

a. Universal Omnibus Protections
b. Employee Protection Statutes
c. OSHAct of 1970
d. Whistleblower protection statutes

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Final Exam
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