Health and Safety at Work

Everyone is entitled to a safe and healthy work environment: your employer is required by law to provide a safe workplace, adequate training in a language you understand, and appropriate safety equipment, among other things. If you are injured on the job or have a safety concern, it’s your right to file a report and to be free from retaliation by your employer for speaking up. Read on to find out all about OSHA and how to exercise your right to health and safety at work.

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a division of the Department of Labor and is responsible for ensuring that employers follow the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Passed in 1970, the Act outlines employees’ right to a “safe and healthful” workplace by setting forth standards and regulations that employers must follow.

Who is covered?

Most employees are covered by OSHA or a similar, state-run, job health and safety program that must, at minimum, meet the same standards required by OSHA. Self-employed people, independent contractors, volunteers, interns and others who are not legally considered employees may not be covered by OSHA.

What are my responsibilities as an employee?

As an employee, you are required to follow the rules, regulations and safety procedures of your employer. You also have a responsibility to understand and follow OSHA guidelines and requirements; and to report any job-related injury, illness or hazard to your employer.

When should I file a complaint?

If you believe your working conditions are unsafe or harmful to your health, you have the right to ask questions and to request that your employer amend the situation. If your employer refuses to take your concerns seriously, you can file a complaint with OSHA. If the circumstances clearly present a high risk of injury or death, it may be within your rights to refuse to work until the concern has been addressed. Follow this link or go to the OSHA.gov website to file a complaint online, or by phone, fax or mail.

What happens if my employer gets angry at me for contacting OSHA?

It is against the law for an employer to retaliate in any way against a worker for exercising his or her legal rights. This means your employer cannot fire, demote, transfer or punish you in any way if you choose to file a complaint. If you feel you have been the subject of retaliation, you can file a discrimination complaint, also known as a whistleblower’s complaint, at OSHA.gov.

What should I do if I am injured at work?

After you take care of any acute symptoms, it’s important that you report any injury to your employer. Even if you don’t think you will need medical attention, it’s better to report an injury and have it resolve itself than to find out it’s worse than you thought and not be able to get the care you need. It’s best (and may be required in your state) to report injuries in writing to ensure your right to worker’s compensation is protected.

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