OSHA and Workplace Safety
Employees have the right to a workplace that is reasonably free of safety and health hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency that seeks to assure the safety and health of America's workers by setting and enforcing workplace safety standards.
Employee Rights Under OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Department of Labor, in order to reduce workplace hazards and implement safety and health programs. OSHA gives employees many rights and responsibilities, including the right to:
- Review copies of appropriate standards, rules, regulations, and requirements that the employer should have available at the workplace.
- Have access to relevant employee exposure and medical records.
- Request the OSHA area director to conduct an inspection if they believe hazardous conditions or violations of standards exist in the workplace, and have an authorized employee representative accompany the OSHA compliance officer during the inspection tour.
- Have their names withheld from their employer, upon request to OSHA, if they sign and file a written complaint.
- Be free of any discriminatory or retaliatory action taken by their employer as a result of any OSHA complaint.
Among the obligations imposed under OSHA, employers have a duty to:
- Provide work and a workplace free from recognized hazards.
- Inform employees of OSHA safety and health standards that apply to their workplace.
- Display in a prominent place the official OSHA poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act.
- Establish a written, comprehensive hazard communication program that includes provisions for such things as container labeling, material safety data sheets, and an employee training program.
- Inform employees of the existence, location, and availability of their medical and exposure records when employees first begin employment and at least annually thereafter, and to provide these records upon request.
If a hazard is not being corrected, an employee should contact an OSHA area office or state office via a written complaint. If the OSHA or state office determines that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a violation or danger exists, the office will conduct an inspection. A workers' representative has a right to accompany an OSHA compliance officer during the inspection. The representative must be chosen by the union (if there is one) or by the employees. Under no circumstances may the employer choose the workers' representative. The inspector may conduct a comprehensive inspection of the entire workplace or a partial inspection limited to certain areas or aspects of the operation.
At the end of the inspection, the OSHA inspector will meet with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the abatement of any hazards that may have been found.