Employee Rights

Your Right to a Safe and Healthful Workplace

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.

(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.

Employer obligations. Section 5(a) says employers must:

  • furnish safe employment (work, jobs) and a safe place of employment (the workplace, worksite);
  • provide workplaces that are free of hazards that are known or should have been known by the employer;
  • provide workplaces that are free of hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees; and
  • comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

Employee obligations. The section says employees must:

  • comply with OSHA standards, and
  • comply with employer rules, regulations, and orders which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

1. According to the OSH Act, the employer must keep the workplace free from _____ that can cause death or serious physical harm.

a. employee innovations
b. all conditions
c. recognized hazards
d. a lack of common sense

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Your Right to Know About Hazardous Chemicals

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

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:

  • container labeling
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)
  • worker training
  • training must include the physical and health hazards of the chemicals and how workers can protect themselves

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).

2. There are an estimated _____ existing hazardous chemical products.

a. 1200
b. 30,000
c. 650,000
d. 6.5 million

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Your Right to Information About Injuries/Illnesses

You have a right to know about injuries and illnesses.
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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.

  • You or your personal/authorized representative have the right to report an injury and review the current log, as well as logs stored for the past 5 years.
  • The employer must provide this information by the end of the next workday. The names and other information on the log may not be removed, unless the case is a "privacy concern case."
  • You also have the right to view the annually posted summary of the injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300A).

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.

3. XYZ is a small company has nine employees? Must this company keep an OSHA log of injuries and illnesses?

a. Yes
b. No
c. Yes, if in construction
d. No, unless NIOSH requests it

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Right to Raise Safety Concerns

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.

4. If you bring up safety concerns, your employer may not retaliate against you as long as your complaint is _____.

a. made in good faith
b. made while at work
c. reported within 30 days
d. determined to be valid

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Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

You have the right to refuse dangerous work, with conditions.

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:

  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.

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.

5. If, after a discussion about safety, you are required by your employer to work on a phone tower 60 feet above the ground without fall protection, what right do you have under OSHA?

a. No right: you must do the task
b. Walk off the worksite
c. Refuse to do the task
d. Start a sit-down strike

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Right to Training

Conduct classroom and "hands-on" training.

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).

6. Why is it a good idea to properly document all safety training?

a. So the employee can't be fined for lack of training
b. To demonstrate employee due diligence
c. To give the safety manager something to do
d. Because OSHA will ask for it if they inspect or investigate

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Right to Examine Exposure and Medical Records

Employees have the right to examine and copy exposure and medical records.

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:

  • metals and dusts, such as, lead, cadmium, and silica
  • biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi
  • 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, 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.

7. Which of the following records must the employer provide to employees?

a. Exposure and medical records
b. Profit and loss statements
c. Safety and health statistics
d. Days without a serious injury data

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Your Right to File a Complaint

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:

  • The complaint will be formalized in writing, and signed by you or your representative.
  • You must set forth reasonable and specific grounds for the notice of complaint.
  • You may request that your name, or that of your representative not be revealed to the employer.
  • OSHA will notify the employer about the complaint, and conduct a special inspection if there are reasonable grounds to believe a violation or danger exists.
  • You have the right to find out OSHA's action on the complaint and request a review if an inspection is not made.

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.

8. If you file a complaint with OSHA, what must you do before OSHA will consider conducting a special inspection to verify the complaint?

a. You must give the names of witnesses to the violation
b.You must set forth reasonable and specific grounds
c. You must swear that the information given is true
d. You must report to OSHA within 45 days after the violation occurred

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Right to Participate in OSHA Inspections

You have a right to participate in all phases of a OSHA safety inspection.

During an OSHA inspection, you or your representative has the following rights:

  • Have a representative of employees, such as the safety steward of a labor organization, go along on the inspection;
  • Talk privately with the inspector; and
  • Take part in meetings with the inspector before and after the inspection.

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:

  • Point out hazards;
  • Describe injuries illnesses or near misses that resulted from these hazards and describe any concerns about a safety or health issue;
  • Discuss past worker complaints about hazards; and
  • Inform the inspector of working conditions that are not normal during the inspection.
  • Find out about inspection results, abatement measures and may object to dates set for violation to be corrected

9. If an employee or employee representative cannot participate in an inspection, what must OSHA do?

a. Continue the inspection with employer representatives only
b. Terminate the inspection and cite the employer
c. Reschedule the inspection
d. Speak with a reasonable number of employees

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Right to be Free From Retaliation

The employer cannot retaliate for protected activities.

Workers have the right to be free from retaliation for exercising safety and health rights called "protected activities."

  • Workers have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment.
  • This right is spelled out in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.
  • Workers have 30 days to contact OSHA if they feel they have been punished for exercising their safety and health rights.

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:

  • workplace safety and health
  • asbestos in schools
  • cargo containers
  • airlines and commercial motor carrier
  • consumer products food safety and environmental issues
  • financial reform and health insurance reform, and securities laws
  • motor vehicle safety and public transportation
  • nuclear, pipeline, railroad, and maritime safety

10. How long do you have to contact OSHA if you believe you have been punished for exercising your safety and health rights?

a. 10 days
b. 30 days
c. Five weeks
d. Two months

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Right to be Free From Retaliation (continued)

Examples of retaliatory actions by your employer may include:

The employer cannot retaliate for protected activities.
  • applying or issuing a policy which provides for an unfavorable personnel action due to activity protected by a whistleblower law enforced by OSHA
  • blacklisting
  • demoting
  • denying overtime or promotion
  • disciplining
  • denying benefits
  • failing to hire or rehire
  • firing or laying off
  • intimidation
  • making threats
  • reassignment to a less desirable position, including one adversely affecting prospects for promotion
  • reducing pay or hours
  • suspension

How OSHA Determines Whether Retaliation Took Place

The investigation must reveal that:

  • The employee engaged in protected activity;
  • The employer knew about or suspected the protected activity;
  • The employer took an adverse action; and
  • The protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action.

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.

11. Each of the following is a possible employer retaliatory action, except _____.

a. reassignment to an equivalent position
b. firing or laying off
c. denying overtime or promotion
d. reducing pay or hours

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