Under the OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employees and their authorized representatives have the right to file complaints about serious hazards and further to request an OSHA official to visit and inspect their workplaces and investigate concerns.
Employers must comply with OSHA standards detailed in the act including the bloodborne pathogens standard, and they risk fines and penalties being levied against their business if they do not.
Here we present for information the basics of reporting a complaint to OSHA.
The OSHA Standards
OSHA has set standards for most major safety areas and employers and employees must both comply with the rules and regulations detailed in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
The four major categories the Act covers are general industry, construction, maritime, and agriculture. If details about a specific hazard do not exist in the standards documents, employers and employees must adhere to [Section 5(a)(1)
employers "shall furnish . . . a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees".
Three requirements are very similar for all industries:
- Access to medical exposure records: employees, their representative, and OSHA have the right to relevant medical records.
- Personal protective equipment: each of the four major categories requires slightly different equipment, but, whatever the industry, all employees are entitled to designated protective equipment to protect them from workplace hazards and they should also be properly trained in their equipment’s use. PPE is also covered under several different standards such as the Bloodborne Pathogen OSHA Training standard
- Hazard communications: if an employee is handling potentially hazardous material, evaluations of the product must be conducted. Material found hazardous must be marked as such and customers of the material must receive a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Employers must also train employees about the dangers presented in materials on the MSDS sheet. Bloodborne pathogens are classed as a hazardous material under this requirement.
Employers are required to post injury reports from the previous year, even if no injuries occurred.
The Act allows individuals states to formulate in safety programs that will function under state law but continue to be monitored – a good example of this is tattoo licensing = this varies greatly by state but always contains the OSHA Bloodborne pathogens training for tattoo artists training standard.
Further, OSHA must approve the program. However, in practice, most state plans match federal plans very closely and if anything build upon them.
The following states have individual, OSHA-approved programs for the private and public sector: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York have OSHA-approved state plans that only cover public sector workers.
Each employee has the right to report a violation for any of the following serious hazards:
- Arc and welding cutting
- Fall protection
- Cave-in prevention
- Confined space entry
- Machines must have guards
- Necessary personal protective equipment must be readily available
- Respirator protection
- Hearing conservation
- Asbestos and other dangerous substances, exposure prevention
- Sharp objects not having built-in safety features to prevent wounds
- Employees not understanding safety regulations to protect themselves
For more information about specific dangers employee must be protected against, see the OSHA Law and Regulation’s page.
Can I file a complaint with OSHA?
OSHA protects nearly all United States employees through federal and state law, including but not limited to law and medicine, charity, construction, longshoring, organized labor, Postal Service, local government, manufacturing, agriculture,private education, and anyone protected by OSHA’s federal or state approved health and safety plans.
Excluded occupations for the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1970 are:
- The Self-employed
- Farms employing immediate family
- Jobs where other federal laws mandates workers’ safety, for example mining, transportation and haulage , and nuclear energy and weapons manufacturing
- Local government and state employees, unless under an OSHA-approved state plan
Employees who experience a violation may file a health or safety complaint. Though OSHA guarantees their identities are kept confidential, OSHA protects employees who report a violation.
The following are authorized employee representatives who may file one on an employee’s behalf., as defined by OSHA:
- Labor organization
- Spouse or next of kin
- Government official
- Nonprofit organization
- Member of the clergy
- Social worker
Filing an OSHA complaint: Quick guide
Employees, representatives, and anyone else aware of serious health or safety violations in the workplace have several options to file an OSHA complaint.
Submit online via electronic complaint form
Telephone your local OSHA office or 1-800-321-OSHA
Note: complaints signed and submitted to local OSHA offices are more likely to result in OSHA inspections.
For more details about the type of information you must provide to file a complaint, see the OSHA complaint page.
When Can I File a Complaint?
Before filing an OSHA complaint, try to resolve your health and safety concern directly with your immediate supervisor or manager, as it is the most effective and quickest way to correct workplace hazards.
OSHA accepts complaints about hazards at all times. Discrimination complaints against those who filed a complaint, however, must be filed within 30 days of the alleged violation.
Filing a Discrimination Compliant
OSHA forbids employers from retaliating against employees for filing a complaint. OSHA offers protection against the following unpermitted adverse actions:
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Making threats
- Reassignment that affects promotion prospects
- Reducing pay or hours
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denying benefits
If you have been retaliated or discriminated against for filing an OSHA complaint about unsafe working conditions, you can file a discrimination complaint. Some states let workers file a complaint under the OSH Act with both the federal OSHA and state OSHA plans. Similarly, these complaints can be filed online, by fax or mail via downloaded form, by telephone call, or by sending a letter to your local OSHA office.
Employee rights during OSHA inspection
Employees retain these rights during an OSHA investigation:
- Employees may speak with the inspector privately
- Employees may attend meetings with the inspector before and after inspection
- A representative of employees should be allowed to accompany the tour
An OSHA inspector will likely speak with several employees regarding safety and health conditions. OSHA encourages employees to mention hazards and any illnesses or injuries, to discuss past hazard complaints, and to inform the inspector if conditions during inspection are not normal.
The inspector will meet with the employee and employer to discuss findings and solutions to any violations that were discovered. The OSHA area director issues citations and notifications of proposed penalties to employers for any violations. The citation will include actions that must be taken and a date they must be done by. Employers must post a copy of the citation for employees to see, which can list if the offense is serious, willful, or repeat.
Employees have a right to contest the citations to OSHA within 15 days of the posting, usually asking for a shorter allotted time to correct the issue. Employers may also challenge the validation of the citation.
State Specific Reporting
Not only do federal laws outline labor law violations, but many states have additional labor laws that apply to employees working within state borders.
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