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 --
(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.
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.
According to the OSHAct, employers must provide employees a workplace free from recognized hazards. Specifically, OSHA standards mandate that employers must:
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:
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 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.
OSHA’s Recordkeeping rule requires most employers with more than 10 workers to keep a log of injuries and illnesses.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.|
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:
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.
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