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Protecting Yourself From Unsafe Working Conditions

Under federal and state laws, employers must provide a safe workplace. If there are unsafe working conditions, a worker may report the violation to the employer and to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In some cases, the worker may refuse to work. The following is a summary of OSHA protection and guidelines for dealing with dangerous conditions in the workplace.

What Is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) is a federal statute requiring employers to maintain a workplace free of dangerous health and safety conditions that can cause illness, injury, or death. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces the Act and establishes safety standards.

The OSH Act applies to private employers conducting business through interstate commerce. This includes doing business via the U.S. Postal Service or by telephone calls to other states.

The intent of OSHA is to protect workers (excluding independent contractors) from:

  • One-time injuries
  • Illnesses caused by unsafe health conditions in the workplace
  • Recognized hazards that may cause death or serious injury

To protect workers from unsafe working conditions, employers must abide by workplace safety standards. Employers must:

  • Provide a workplace free of health and safety hazards that can cause death or serious injury
  • Post an OSHA job safety notice in the workplace
  • Keep a record of injuries, deaths, and exposure to hazardous material
  • Provide safety training if necessary

Safety standards set by OSHA include provisions for storing hazardous chemicals, equipment maintenance, fire protection, eye protection, and protective clothing.

What To Do When a Safety Hazard Poses an Imminent Danger

When unsafe working conditions place a worker's life in imminent danger, the worker should report the dangerous condition to OSHA. The worker also has the right to refuse to work if:

  • There is a reasonable and good faith belief that a condition in the workplace poses an immediate and substantial risk of serious physical injury or death
  • The employer won't fix the dangerous condition
  • The immediacy of the danger doesn't allow enough time to report the condition to OSHA or the appropriate state agency
  • The worker didn't have a reasonable alternative

The worker can refuse to return to work until the employer eliminates the danger or investigates and determines that no imminent danger exists.

What To Do When a Safety Hazard Does Not Pose an Imminent Danger

If a dangerous condition doesn't create the risk of imminent danger, the employee should inform the employer of the problem in writing. If the employer fails to correct the condition, the worker can file a complaint with OSHA or with the appropriate state occupational safety agency.

OSHA regulations and many state laws prohibit an employer from retaliating against a worker who reports a violation. This means the employer may not fire, demote, or reduce a worker's pay because the worker filed a complaint about unsafe working conditions. A determination of employer retaliation by OSHA can result in the reinstatement of the worker to their former position and an order for compensation for lost wages.

Get Legal Help To Protect Yourself From Unsafe Working Conditions

If you're dealing with dangerous working conditions or have been injured on the job, you could benefit from the assistance of a legal professional. A lawyer can help determine your rights and help you decide whether you need to sue or will be better off negotiating with an employer. Contact a local employment attorney and let them guide you to a better, safer working environment.

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Contact a qualified workplace safety attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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