Every single job, regardless of field or industry, comes with its own set of potential risks. Some industries, however, pose a greater risk to worker safety than others. Employees who work with heavy machinery or hazardous chemicals, for example, face higher risks on the job than those who work in an office setting. To address these risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) was established to ensure that employees were working in a safe and healthy environment.
Although you likely know what OSHA is and are somewhat familiar with it, it’s important to fully understand your employee rights under this Act. Your health and safety are what is most important, so it is essential to recognize the signs that your OSHA rights are being violated and what actions you need to take to address the issue. As an employee, you have the right to file complaints against your employer with OSHA and assert your other rights without fear of retaliation.
Employee rights covered by OSHA include:
The Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace
Under OSHA regulations, employees are entitled to a workplace that is safe and promotes good health. OSHA has established multiple standards that employers must comply with to minimize the risk of harm and injury to workers. Different industries have various regulations that they must abide by, including healthcare, maritime, agriculture, and construction. Employers must meet OSHA’s standards for fall protection, respiratory protection, protection against hazardous chemicals, and easy access to safety equipment.
The Right to Receive Training
As an employee working with hazardous chemicals, you have the right to receive OSHA safety training from your employer on how to handle these substances safely. This training should cover information about the chemicals themselves, their potential health effects, and strategies for minimizing risk while working with them. Your employer must also have a written program in place for communicating about workplace hazards. Training is also mandatory for other types of hazards that may be present in your workplace.
The Right to Request Information from Your Employer
As an employee, you have the right to request information from your employer about the standards and regulations that OSHA has in place. Additionally, you can ask for information about the safety and health hazards present in your workplace and access the Log and Summary of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses as well as any relevant exposure and medical records. You may also have the right to monitor workplace hazards in certain situations.
The Right to Request Action from Your Employer
As an employee, you are entitled to bring up any concerns you may have about health and safety hazards in your workplace with your employer, regardless of whether it is related to an OSHA violation or not.
The Right to File a Complaint
If you suspect that there are health and safety hazards in your workplace or that your employer is not following OSHA regulations, you have the right to file a complaint with OSHA. You are also allowed to request that your complaint be kept confidential. Complaints can be filed in numerous ways, including online, in person at an OSHA office, by telephone, or via email, mail, or fax.
The Right to Be Involved in Inspections and Find Out the Results
During an OSHA inspection, employees are entitled to have a representative present. Additionally, employees can privately discuss their concerns with the OSHA inspector. It is important to provide the inspector with as much relevant information as possible during this time.
The Right to Be Involved in Meetings
As an employee, you have the right to attend meetings where your employer discusses OSHA citations or challenges any imposed deadlines.
The Right to File an Appeal
You have the right to file an appeal if you disagree with the deadlines set by OSHA for your employer to address hazards.
The Right to File a Whistleblower Complaint
Workers have the right to inform OSHA about any violations or safety hazards in their workplace without experiencing any form of retaliation. If an employee feels that their employer is treating them unfairly for asserting this right, they can file a whistleblower complaint.
The Right to Request a Research Investigation
If you are concerned about the potential toxicity of a substance in your workplace, you have the right to request that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a research investigation.
OSHA mandates that employers must display posters in the workplace that inform employees of their safety rights. Copies of this poster, known as OSHA 3165, are available on the OSHA website.
It is prohibited for employers to retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the Act or file complaints related to it. OSHA also enforces whistle-blower protections for several other statutes that safeguard employees who report violations of transportation, environmental, and securities laws.
To avoid employee complaints that may trigger an OSHA inspection, ensure that your business is in compliance with OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements.
Although the OSH Act does not give employees the ability to sue employers for injuries caused by violations of the Act or OSHA standards, it does not limit state workers’ compensation laws or any claims arising from state statutes or common law. Evidence of OSHA violations may be permissible in these types of legal proceedings.
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