You have a right to a safe working environment under federal law. Your employer has an obligation to provide a workplace that is free of known safety hazards, as well as known health hazards. You have a right to be free to express your concerns about safety without fear of retaliation. As a general rule, your employer’s obligations to keep you safe are governed by the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly referred to as “OSHA.”
Safe Equipment and Safety Gear
You are entitled to safe work equipment. This means, for example, that machinery is maintained properly. There should be a regular maintenance schedule that is followed, in addition to fixing any equipment that has broken down. Machine guards are designed for your safety. Machine guards should never be removed or modified without the express approval of the manufacturer. Similarly, scaffolding must be erected only as intended, and must be fully decked or planked.
You are also entitled to be protected from toxic chemicals. This protection starts with proper storage of the chemicals, and extends to personal protective equipment and proper equipment, such as a working hood or other ventilation system. As part of your protection, your employer is obligated to identify the hazards associated with each chemical used. They must also provide you with training about the hazards presented by the chemicals used. Finally, your employer must educate you as to precautions you should take when using those chemicals.
Personal Protective Equipment
You are entitled to safety gear, such as gloves, a lifeline for falls, or a harness for your protection. In most instances, your employer is obligated to provide you with safety equipment at no cost to you. Typically, if the equipment is necessary to protect you from job related illnesses, job related injuries, or job related fatalities, the employer is required to provide the equipment. This equipment can include, but is not limited to the following:
- Safety glasses;
- Hard hats;
- Welding helmets;
- Welding goggles;
- Chemical protective equipment; and
- Face shields.
Your employer is obligated to warn you about potential hazards. Where appropriate, your employer should use signs, labels, posters or color codes to warn of such hazards. However, this is not always enough. Employers have a special obligation to implement fall protection systems. Any time there is a risk for a fall of more than six feet, a fall system must be in place. This could include a safety net system or a guardrail system, or both.
Employers must offer safety training regarding the particular risks and responsibilities of the individual workplace. This training must be offered in a language the workers can understand. Sometimes this will require more than one training, such as one in English and one in Spanish. In addition to an understandable language, the vocabulary used must also be understandable.
Depending on the type of work being performed, as well as the potential for exposure, your employer may be required to offer a medical monitoring program. This monitoring program might include medical examinations, blood testing, etc.
As an employee, you have the right to request that OSHA inspect your workplace. If you have reason to believe that your working conditions are unsafe or unhealthy, you can contact OSHA to inspect the conditions. You have the right to request that your identity remain confidential. Alternatively, you are entitled to have someone else not associated with your employer contact OSHA on your behalf.
During an inspection, you have the right to participate in the inspection itself. You also have the right to speak with the inspector in private to discuss any concerns you may have about your workplace safety.
If your employer is issued an OSHA citation, you have the right to see the citation. OSHA also requires employers post the OSHA citation at or near the location the alleged violations took place. You are also entitled to review any tests performed in the workplace, seeking to measure hazards. You employer is obligated to maintain a workplace injury log and a workplace illness log. You are entitled to review both of these logs.
OSHA Workplace Posters
Your employer is bound to display posters informing employees of their rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This poster must be posted at a prominent location within the workplace.
All injuries in the workplace should be reported to the employer immediately. Additionally, concerns about health or safety should be reported to the employer as soon as they are suspected. In certain circumstances, you are entitled to refuse to work in dangerous conditions.
Protection for Whistleblowers
Employees that report safety hazards or health hazards are entitled to protection from retaliation from their employer. Retaliation can take several forms. It can include any or all of the following:
- Putting an employee on a “blacklist”;
- Demoting the employee;
- Denying the employee overtime;
- Denying the employee a promotion;
- Disciplining the employee;
- Denying the employee benefits they are otherwise entitled to;
- Firing an employee;
- Laying off an employee;
- Failing to rehire an employee;
- Intimidation of the employee;
- Harassing the employee;
- Making threats to the employee directly;
- Making threats to the employee through other means;
- Reducing pay;
- Reducing hours;
- Reassignment to a position that reduces or eliminates the potential for promotion.
If You Are Facing an Unsafe Working Environment
If you are facing an unsafe work environment, or one that is unhealthy, you should first report the situation to your employer. If your employer does not respond, you should consult with a qualified workers’ compensation attorney before you find yourself in need of workers’ compensation.
If You Have Been Injured On The Job
If you have been injured on the job, you may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Contact the qualified workers’ compensation attorneys at The Bader Law Firm, LLC to discuss your case. The time frame within which action must be taken can be very narrow. Do not wait. The lawyers at Bader Law Firm, LLC offer a free consultation.