Topic of the Week Health & Safety - How does the law protect you at work
- Which federal law protects me against health and safety hazards at work?
- How do I know if I am covered by OSHA?
- What are OSHA's requirements for employers?
- Can my employer fire or punish me for reporting an injury or illness?
Which federal law protects me against health and safety hazards at work?
OSHA, short for the Occupational Safety and Health Act, is the main federal law regulating workplace safety. Put simply, OSHA gives you as an employee the right to have a safe and hazard free workplace. OSHA accomplishes this by randomly inspecting workplaces and by taking complaints directly from workers. Workers in certain states are also protected by state OSHA laws.
Here are some of the specific rights that OSHA guarantees:
- You have the right to notify your employer or OSHA about workplace hazards. You may ask OSHA to keep your name confidential.
- You have the right to request an OSHA inspection if you believe that there are unsafe and unhealthful conditions in your workplace. You or your representative may participate in the inspection.
- You can file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of discrimination by your employer for making safety and health complaints or for exercising your rights under the OSH Act.
- You have a right to see OSHA citations issued to your employer. Your employer must post the citations at or near the place of the alleged violation.
- Your employer must correct workplace hazards by the date indicated on the citation and must certify that these hazards have been reduced or eliminated.
- You have the right to copies of your medical records or records of your exposure to toxic and harmful substances or conditions.
- Your employer must notify all employees of their right to report work-related illnesses or injuries. This obligation may also be satisfied by posting the OSHA Job Safety and Health poster.
How do I know if I am covered by OSHA?
OSHA covers almost all employees in the private sector. The main groups not covered by OSHA are government employees (the public sector), independent contractors, and those who work on family farms. State and local government agency employees are not covered by OSHA but have OSHA protections if they the state that they are working in has an OSHA- approved state program. These states include Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and the Virgin Islands. As for federal employees, OSHA protections apply to all federal agencies.
What are OSHA's requirements for employers?
OSHA imposes many requirements on employers. Among the most important are the duties of the employer to:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with OSHA regulations.
- Examine the workplace to ensure that equipment and practices conform to OSHA requirement.
- Make sure employees are properly using tools and equipment and make sure that the equipment itself is safe.
- Inform employees about potential hazards.
- Train employees in dealing with hazards.
- Report any fatal or serious injuries to OSHA within 8 hours.
- Provide employees with a reasonable procedure for reporting work-related injuries or illness.
- Keep records of workplace injuries and make these records available upon request to employees and former employees.
Can my employer fire or punish me for reporting an injury or illness?
No. OSHA rules explicitly prohibit an employer from firing or retaliating against an employee because they reported an injury or illness. An employer may fire or punish you for violating safety rules, or for violating reasonable reporting procedures. But the fact that you reported an injury or illness cannot be the reason for the punishment.
In order for OSHA to issue a citation against an employer for retaliation, the following must be true:
- The employee reported a work-related injury or illness;
- The employer took adverse action against the employee (action that would deter a reasonable person from reporting an injury or illness); and
- The employer took the adverse action because the employee reported a work-related injury or illness. (this can be proven by circumstantial evidence, as hard evidence may not exist in some cases.)