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.
(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.
Employer obligations. Section 5(a) says employers must:
Employee obligations. The section says employees must:
Another important right is the Right to Know about hazardous substances in your workplace. Employers must have a written, complete hazard communication program that includes information on:
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.
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 this information, they are able to take steps to protect themselves from experiencing adverse effects from exposure.
The program must also include a list of the hazardous chemicals in each work area and the means the employer uses to inform workers of the hazards of non-routine tasks. The program must explain how the employer will inform other employers of hazards to which their workers may be exposed (for example, contract workers).
OSHA's Recordkeeping rule requires most employers with more than 10 workers to keep a log of injuries and illnesses. The log, which is also called the OSHA 300, must contain all work-related injuries and illnesses resulting in lost workdays, restricted work or transfer to another job, as well as any incident requiring more than first aid treatment.
Since you are often closest to potential safety and health hazards, you have a vested interest in reporting problems so that the employer gets them fixed. If the hazard is not getting corrected, you should then contact OSHA.
For more on OSHA recordkeeping download the OSHA 300, 300A and 301 forms and instructions.
You may bring up safety and health concerns in the workplace to your employer without fear of discharge or discrimination, as long as the complaint is made in good faith. Check out the video: an Oregon OSHA compliance officer just happened to be on a construction site. Would you, as an employee raise the same concerns as that raised by the Oregon OSHA inspector. If you have concerns, make sure you tell your safety committee, supervisor, or safety manager.
OSHA regulations protect workers who raise concerns to their employer or to OSHA about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in the workplace. You cannot be transferred, denied a raise, have your hours reduced, be fired, or punished in any other way because you have exercised any right afforded to you under the OSH Act.
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.
You may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. However, you should not leave the worksite merely because you have filed a complaint.
If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, you have brought the condition to the attention of your employer, you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard. OSHA cannot enforce union contracts that give employees the right to refuse to work.
Your right to refuse to do a task is protected if ALL of the following four conditions are met:
If the above conditions are met, you should take the following steps:
You have a right to get training from your employer on a variety of health and safety hazards and standards that your employer must follow.
We've already discussed the training required under OSHA's Hazard Communication (Right to Know) standard. Other required training includes chemical hazards, equipment hazards, noise, confined spaces, fall hazards in construction, personal protective equipment, and a variety of other subjects.
The training must be in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
It is a good idea to keep a record of all safety and health training. Documentation demonstrates employer due diligence and can also supply an answer to one of the first questions OSHA will ask if they conduct an inspection or accident investigation: "Did the employee receive adequate training to do the job?" Remember, as far as OSHA is concerned, if it isn't in writing, it didn't get done.
For more information on on OSHA's training requirements download Publication 2254, Training Requirements in OSHA Standards. You may also want to take OSHAcademy courses:
These courses are part of OSHAcademy's 36-Hour OSH Trainer Program (Train-the-Trainer).
Under OSHA's standard 1910.1020, you have the right to examine and copy 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, and 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.
You, and your representative, have a right to file a confidential complaint with OSHA if you believe a violation of a safety or health standard that threatens physical harm, or an imminent danger situation, exists in the workplace. Important points to remember include:
You can file a complaint online at OSHA's website, in writing or by telephone to 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.
For more information on filing a complaint with OSHA, visit OSHA's Filing a Complaint page.
During an OSHA inspection, you or your representative has the following rights:
When there is no authorized employee representative, the OSHA inspector must talk confidentially with a reasonable number of workers during the inspection. Workers are encouraged to:
Workers have the right to be free from retaliation for exercising safety and health rights called "protected activities."
Protected activities: You may file a complaint with OSHA if your employer retaliates against you by taking unfavorable personnel action because you engaged in protected activity relating to workplace safety or health. Examples of protected activities include complaints about the following:
Examples of retaliatory actions by your employer may include:
The investigation must reveal that:
If the evidence supports the employee's allegation and a settlement cannot be reached, OSHA will generally issue an order, which the employer may contest, requiring the employer to reinstate the employee, pay back wages, restore benefits, and other possible remedies to make the employee whole.
For more information on your rights as a Whistleblower, download OSHA's Factsheet.
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