Your employer has a legal obligation to provide safe working conditions.
What are your options if they don’t?
The danger of being hurt at work is very real. Unfortunately, as many as 78,000 workplace injuries occur in Georgia each year. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in Georgia – 2019). Employees should be vigilant about their safety on the job.
If you identify a serious safety hazard at work, you may wonder how to report it. Who investigates dangerous conditions in employment? How do you make a report to them?
Our lawyers at Moebes Law explain how to report unsafe working conditions at your job.
How to Report Dangerous Working Conditions
To report dangerous working conditions, take the following steps:
- Speak directly to your employer about your concerns: The employer is the entity that can remedy the danger the fastest. Although it may seem like a waste of time, you must speak to the employer about the problem before you can lawfully refuse to work.
- Your union — if you have one: A union representative may be able to use union channels to address a dangerous condition at work. The terms of the union contract may address hazardous working conditions, and the union may be able to help.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): OSHA is a government organization that enforces the duty of employers to provide safe working environments. Officials may investigate and impose sanctions.
How do I speak to my employer about a safety problem at work?
As you speak to your employer about workplace safety, provide facts. Try to avoid emotion. Be as cooperative as you can. Tell them what is concerning and why. Listen to what they say, and offer any solutions that you have.
It may be helpful to send a generic follow-up email to your employer documenting that you had the conversation. Keep the email brief and factual.
How do you make a report to OSHA about a dangerous working condition?
OSHA accepts safety reports in these ways:
- Online: OSHA Online Complaint Form
- Fax: Complete and fax the written OSHA Complaint Form to the local OSHA office
- Mail: Use the written OSHA Complaint Form or send a letter explaining your concerns. Be sure to include all the relevant information. Send it to the local OSHA office
- Email: Email the form or information to the local OSHA office
- Telephone: Call the local OSHA office, or call 1 (800) 321-6742 and ask to be transferred to the local office
- In-person: Go to the local office and discuss your concerns with a representative
Most people will probably think it’s easiest to make the report online or over the phone, but any of these options are acceptable. Make sure you provide enough information to allow investigators to follow up. Try to stick to the facts.
What information gets reported to OSHA when you make a safety complaint?
An OSHA safety complaint should contain the following information:
- Name of company
- Address of company and work site
- Manager’s name
- Business number
- Type of business
- A description of the hazard
- Location of the hazard
- Whether you have brought the issue to your employer’s attention or the attention of another government agency
- Your relationship to the company
- Your contact information and whether you want to remain anonymous
As you describe the hazard, talk about what it is, why you believe it is dangerous, and the date you last observed it. Talk about the approximate number of employees who are at risk.
The Role of OSHA – Investigating Dangerous Conditions at Work
How does OSHA enforce safety in the workplace?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a government agency with authority to create and enforce safety standards for employers in the United States. Their authority comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The purpose of the Act is to:
- Assure safe and healthy working conditions by enforcing standards
- Assist and encourage states to ensure safe and healthy working conditions
- Provide research, information, education, and training in occupational safety and health
OSHA researches and evaluates potential safety hazards in the workplace. They create standards for a variety of topics like fall protection and chemical dangers. OSHA regulations are mandatory for employers. If not followed, OSHA can investigate and impose fines. Even violating OSHA posting requirements may result in a civil penalty.
Note: There are a few industries where OSHA regulations are limited or where they do not apply. For example, OSHA is limited to non-radiological health and safety topics at nuclear power plants because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) already regulates that aspect of their work. However, OSHA applies for most employees.
The Right to Refuse Dangerous Work
You’ve already talked to your employer about the dangerous nature of the work. Maybe you’ve even made a report to OSHA. However, the employer is still insisting that you do the work. What can you do?
Do you have the right to refuse to perform dangerous work?
Yes. If the work poses a real danger of serious death or injury, you can refuse to perform the work.
To have the right to refuse dangerous work, the following must be true:
- If possible, you asked the employer to eliminate the danger
- The employer refused to eliminate the danger
- There is a real danger of death or serious injury (reasonable person standard)
- You genuinely believe that there is an imminent danger of harm
- There’s not enough time to request an OSHA inspection or use other methods
If you’re going to refuse to work, take the following steps:
- Ask the employer to eliminate the hazard
- Ask the employer to assign you other work
- Tell the employer you’re refusing the work until they eliminate the hazard
- Stay on the job unless your employer orders you to leave
If your employer retaliates against you for refusing to do a dangerous job, and all these conditions have been met, you can report retaliation to OSHA. You have 30 days to report the retaliation. The report must be made by phone. Call 1 (800) 321-OSHA (6742). They will connect you to the nearest regional office.
(Source: OSHA, Workers’ Right to Refuse Dangerous Work).
Attorneys for Workplace Injuries
If you have been hurt on the job or have another legal matter, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. Contact us today.