OSHA Employee Rights
Although the act also holds employees responsible for obeying federal health and safety standards, the act does not set penalties for employees who disregard OSHA standards, regulations, and guidelines. Employers ultimately bear the responsibility of ensuring employee compliance - and the fines for noncompliance.
Specific employee rights include the following:
· Employees who believe unsafe conditions exist may request an OSHA inspection by filing a complaint at the nearest OSHA office. OSHA will keep the employee’s identity confidential. Employees can also file formal complaints on the Internet by using the “Workers’ Page” available on OSHA’s. Complainants must enter their name, telephone number, their employer’s name, and a description of the hazard and its location. The form is then automatically transmitted for follow-up to the appropriate OSHA office.
· Employees or their representative can accompany OSHA inspectors on the inspection of the workplace.
· Employees may participate in OSHA conferences, OSHRC and court proceedings, or other activities. Employees may also respond to employer applications for variances, modifications of abatement, and contest of citations.
· Employers cannot discharge or discriminate against employees for exercising their rights under the act, including the right to file a complaint charging unsafe or unhealthy conditions in the workplace.
· Labor Unions have the right to comment on proposed OSHA standards, challenging the validity of standards, and sue on behalf of employees in cases of unresolved imminent danger situations.
You have the right to a safe workplace. OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace that is free of serious recognized hazards and in compliance with OSHA standards. Specifically, as an employee you have the rights to:
1. Get training from your employer as required by OSHA standards.
2. Request information from your employer about OSHA standards, worker injuries and illnesses, job hazards and workers' rights.
3. Request action from your employer to correct hazards or violations.
4. File a complaint with OSHA if you believe that there are either violations of OSHA standards or serious workplace hazards.
5. Be involved in OSHA's inspection of your workplace.
6. Find out results of an OSHA inspection.
7. Get involved in any meetings or hearings to discuss any objections your employer has to OSHA's citations or to changes in abatement deadlines.
8. File a formal appeal of deadlines for correction of hazards.
9. File a discrimination complaint.
10. Request a research investigation on possible workplace health hazards.
11. Provide comments and testimony to OSHA during rulemaking on new standards.
There are the employee rights but also, according to OSHA, there are employee responsibilities:
Although OSHA does not cite employees for violations of their responsibilities, each employee "shall comply with all occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued under the Act" that are applicable. Employee responsibilities and rights in states with their own occupational safety and health programs are generally the same as for workers in states covered by Federal OSHA. An employee should do the following:
§ Read the OSHA Poster at the jobsite.
§ Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.
§ Follow all lawful employer safety and health rules and regulations, and wear or use prescribed protective equipment while working.
§ Report hazardous conditions to the supervisor
§ Report any job-related injury or illness to the employer, and seek treatment promptly.
§ Exercise rights under the Act in a responsible manner.
Worker Rights under the OSH Act
The law encourages workers to be active players in their workplace’s safety and health effort. It gives employees the right to:
· Review copies of appropriate standards, rules, regulations, and requirements that the employer is required to have available at the workplace;
· Request information from the employer on safety and health hazards in the workplace, appropriate precautions to take, and procedures to follow if the employee is involved in an accident or is exposed to toxic substances;
· Gain access to relevant employee exposure and medical records;
· Request an OSHA inspection if they believe hazardous conditions or violations of standards exist in the workplace;
· Accompany an OSHA compliance officer during the inspection tour, or have an authorized employee representative do so;
· Respond to questions from the OSHA compliance officer;
· Observe any monitoring or measuring of hazardous materials and see the resulting records, as pacified under the OSH Act and required by OSHA standards;
· Review or have an authorized representative review the employer’s Log of Work-Related Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA 300) at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner;
· Object to the timeframe set by OSHA for the employer to correct a violation by writing to the OSHA area director within 15 working days from the date the employer receives the citation;
· Submit a written request to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for information on whether any substance in the workplace has potentially toxic effects in the concentration being used, and, if requested, have their names withheld from the employer;
· Be notified if the employer applies for a variance from an OSHA standard, and have an opportunity to testify at a variance hearing and appeal the final decision;
· Have their names withheld from their employer, by request to OSHA, if they sign and file a written complaint;
· Be advised of OSHA actions regarding a complaint, and request an informal review of any decision not to inspect the site or issue a citation; and
· File a complaint if punished or discriminated against for acting as a "whistleblower" under the OSH Act or 13 other federal statutes for which OSHA has jurisdiction, or for refusing to work when faced with imminent danger of death or serious injury and there is insufficient time for OSHA to inspect.
Worker Rights to Information
Employers have a legal obligation to inform employees of OSHA safety and health standards that apply to their workplace. Upon request, the employer must make available copies of those standards and the OSH Act. The employer also must prominently display the official OSHA poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act.
Protecting employees who work with hazardous materials
Employers must establish a written, comprehensive hazard communication program to ensure that employees who work with or near hazardous materials are informed of the hazards and provided proper protection. A hazard communication program includes provisions for container labeling, material safety data sheets, and an employee training program. The program must include:
· A list of the hazardous chemicals in each workplace and material safety data sheets for each;
· Methods the employer uses to inform employees of the hazards of non-routine tasks (for example, the cleaning of reactor vessels) and the hazards associated with chemicals in unlabeled pipes in their work areas; and
· A description of methods the employer at a multi-employer worksite will use to inform other employers at the site of the hazards to which their employees may be exposed.
Employee rights when an employer files a variance
Some employers may not be able to comply fully with a new safety and health standard in the time provided due to shortages of personnel, materials, or equipment. In these situations, employers may apply to OSHA for a temporary variance from the standard. In other cases, employers may prefer to use methods or equipment that differ from those prescribed by OSHA, but which the employer believes are equal to or better than OSHA’s requirements. In these cases, the employer may seek a permanent variance for the alternative approach.
The employer’s application for a permanent or temporary variance must include certification that:
· The employer has informed workers of the variance application;
· The employee representative receives a copy of the variance application; and
· The employer has posted a summary of the application wherever notices are normally posted in the workplace.
Employers also must inform employees that they have the right to request a hearing on the application. OSHA encourages employees, employers, and other interested groups to participate in the variance process. Notices of variance applications are published in the Federal Register inviting all interested parties to comment on the action.
Worker Rights to Access Records and Test Results
Access to exposure and medical records
Employers must inform employees of the existence, location, and availability of their medical and exposure records when they begin employment and then at least annually.
Employers also must provide these records to employees or their designated representatives upon request.
Whenever an employer plans to stop doing business and there is no successor employer to receive and maintain these records, the employer must notify employees of their right of access to these records at least three months before closing the business.
Right to observe monitoring procedures and see testing results
OSHA standards require the employer to measure exposure to harmful substances. The employee (or employee representative) has the right to observe the testing and examine the records of the results. If the exposure levels are above the limit set by an OSHA standard, the employer must tell employees what will be done to reduce the exposure.
During an OSHA inspection, an OSHA industrial hygienist may conduct exposure tests if health hazards may be present in the workplace. The inspector may take samples to measure levels of dust, noise, fumes, or other hazardous materials.
OSHA will inform the employee or employee representative who participates in the inspection as to whether the employer is in compliance with OSHA standards. The inspector also will gather detailed information about the employer’s efforts to control health hazards, including results of tests the employer may have conducted.
Right to review injury and illness records
An employer with more than 10 employees must maintain records of all work-related injuries and illnesses, and the employees or their representative have the right to review those records. Some industries with very low injury rates are exempt from these recordkeeping requirements.
Worker Rights to Promote Workplace Safety
Working cooperatively to reduce hazards
OSHA encourages employers and employees to work together to reduce hazards. Employees should discuss safety and health problems with the employer, other workers, and, if a labor union exists, union representatives. The OSHA area office can provide information on OSHA requirements. If the worksite is in a state with its own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health program, the state can provide similar information.
Right to refuse to perform unsafe work
Although nothing in the OSHA law specifically gives an employee the right to refuse to perform an unsafe or unhealthful job assignment, OSHA’s regulations, which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, provide that an employee may refuse to work when faced with an imminent danger of death or serious injury. The conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very stringent, however, and a work refusal should be taken only as a last resort. If time permits, the employee should report the unhealthful or unsafe condition to OSHA or another appropriate regulatory agency.
Recourse if the employer does not correct a hazard
An employee may file a complaint by phone, mail, email, or fax with the nearest OSHA office and request an inspection if there are unsafe or unhealthful working conditions. When doing so, the employee request that OSHA not reveal his or her name. If the OSHA area or state office determines that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a violation or danger exists, the office will investigate.
To file a complaint, call (800) 321-OSHA (6742); contact the nearest OSHA regional, areas, state plan, or consultation office; or file on online complaint at www.osha.gov. The teletypewriter (TTY) number is (877) 889-5627.
Worker Rights During the Inspection Process
Right to representation
The OSH Act gives employees or a workers’ representative the right to accompany an OSHA compliance officer (also referred to as a compliance safety and health officer, CSHO, or inspector) during an inspection. The labor union, if one exists, or the employees must choose the representative. Under no circumstances may the employer choose the workers’ representative.
If more than one union represents the employees, each union may choose a representative. Normally, union representatives will accompany the inspector in the areas of the facility where their members work. An OSHA inspector may conduct a comprehensive inspection of the entire workplace or a partial inspection limited to certain areas or aspects of the operation.
Right to help the compliance officer
Workers have a right to talk privately to the compliance officer on a confidential basis, whether or not a workers’ representative has been chosen. Workers are encouraged to:
· Point out hazards;
· Describe accidents or illnesses that resulted from those hazards;
· Discuss past worker complaints about hazards; and
· Inform the inspector if working conditions are not normal during the inspection.
Rights to information following the inspection
At the end of the inspection, the OSHA inspector will meet with the employer and the employee representatives in a closing conference to discuss how any hazards that may have been found will be abated. If it is not practical to hold a joint conference, the compliance officer will hold separate conferences. OSHA will provide written summaries, on request.
How to challenge the abatement period
Whether or not the employer accepts OSHA’s findings, the employee (or representative) has the right to contest the time OSHA allows for correcting a hazard. This contest must be filed in writing with the OSHA area director within 15 working days after the citation is issued. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency that is not part of the Department of Labor, will decide whether to change the abatement period.
Right to information if no inspection is conducted or no citation issued
The OSHA area director evaluates complaints from employees or their representatives and decides whether they are valid. If the area director decides not to inspect the workplace, he or she will send a certified letter to the complainant explaining the decision and the reasons for it.
OSHA will inform complainants that they have the right to request further clarification of the decision from the OSHA area director. If still dissatisfied, they can appeal to the OSHA regional administrator for an informal review. Similarly, in the event that OSHA decides not to issue a citation after an inspection, employees have a right to further clarification from the area director and an informal review by the regional administrator.
Worker Rights to Protection from Retaliation
Right to confidentiality
Employees who make a complaint to OSHA about safety and health hazards in their workplaces have a right to confidentiality. If the employee requests that his or her name not be used, OSHA will not tell the employer who filed the complaint or requested an inspection.
Employees have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment. That right is spelled out in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. The law forbids the employer from punishing or discriminating against employees for exercising such rights as:
· Complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards; and
· Participating in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings, or other OSHA-related activities. States administering their own occupational safety and health programs must have provisions at least as effective as those in the OSH Act to protect employees from discharge or discrimination.
OSHA, however, retains its whistleblower protection authority in all states regardless of the existence of an OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program.
Workers who believe they have been punished for exercising safety and health rights must contact the nearest OSHA office within 30 days of the time they learn of the alleged discrimination. A representative of the employee’s choosing can file the complaint for the worker. Following a complaint, OSHA will contact the complainant and conduct an in-depth interview to determine whether an investigation is necessary.
If the evidence shows that the employee has been punished for exercising safety and health rights, OSHA will ask the employer to restore that worker’s job, earnings, and benefits. If the employer refuses, OSHA may take the employer to court. In such cases, a Department of Labor attorney will represent the employee to obtain this relief.
Additional whistleblower protections
Since passage of the OSH Act in 1970, Congress has expanded OSHA’s whistleblower protection authority to protect workers from discrimination under 13 additional federal statutes. The agency’s investigators receive about 2,000 complaints a year from employees who charge their employer with retaliation. Complaints must be reported to OSHA within set timeframes following the discriminatory action, as prescribed by each law.