Reporting Unsafe Working Conditions
Whether you work in an office or a construction site, every workplace comes with its own set of hazards. But even if you’re working in areas that have a reputation for being dangerous like construction sites and factories, there is no excuse for your workplace being needlessly dangerous. Employers are required to provide workers with a safe working environment and under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, employees have the right to make complaints about unsafe working conditions without fear of retribution.
If you believe your workplace has a safety issue, the first thing you should do is bring your concerns to the attention of your supervisor, manager, or the person in charge of workplace safety. If possible, talk to some of your other co-workers about your concerns and see if they agree with you. If you talk to your supervisor on behalf of a group of employees, not only is your complaint more likely to be taken seriously, it is less likely your employer will try to punish a group of workers.
Although the OSH Act is supposed to prevent workers from being punished for reporting unsafe working conditions, some employers still try to do things like fire or lay off workers, issue demotions, order pay cuts, or cut a worker’s hours back in response to a complaint. If this happens to you, you can file a discrimination complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Discrimination complaints must be filed within 30 days of the employer’s punitive action. You can also print a discrimination complaint form and fax or mail it to your local OSHA office or call your regional or area OSHA office. If you’re concerned about being the victim of retaliatory actions, you have the option to not have your name revealed to your employer.
If speaking to your supervisor doesn’t resolve the problem, you can file a complaint with OSHA. Making a complaint online is best for non-emergency situations. When a complaint is filed online, OSHA typically handles it by making a phone call or sending a fax to the employer, not by sending a representative to your workplace for an inspection. When an employer is contacted by OSHA, they have five days to respond in writing, explaining what action has been taken or will be taken. The person who filed the complaint will receive a copy of the employer’s response and if they aren’t satisfied with the solution, they can request an inspection.
In more serious situations, making written complaints, either by using a form or writing a letter, or calling the nearest OSHA office is more likely to result in an on-site inspection. OSHA has a phone line for reporting dangerous situations at 1-800-321-6742. If you or another worker has been seriously injured or disabled on the job because of the hazard or the hazard poses a very imminent risk, these are the methods you’ll want to use to make a complaint. If an inspection finds that the hazard is serious enough, OSHA has the power to order an employer to immediately fix the problem, order employees to leave the workplace, or get court orders to force the employer to get rid of the hazard.
When submitting a complaint to OSHA, be as detailed as possible. The more information you provide, the better. Keep a record of any conversations you have regarding the issue, who you talked to about it, when you talked to them, and what the response was. Be as specific as you can about the hazard itself, the risk it poses, if anybody has been injured as a result, and what has or hasn’t been done about it.
If a problem presents a very imminent risk, you have a right to refuse work if all the following conditions are met:
You have asked your employer to remove the hazard and they haven’t complied.
You honestly believe there is an imminent danger present.
A reasonable person could see a situation is dangerous.
There isn’t enough time to file a complaint through OSHA.
Should you find yourself in this situation, you should ask your supervisor or manager to fix the problem or ask for another task to do, tell your supervisor you won’t work unless the problem is fixed, and stay at the worksite until you are asked to leave.