With a new year dawning, it’s a good time to review the rights and requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), which was passed to prevent workers from being killed or otherwise harmed at work.
Rights under the OSH Act
The OSH Act gives workers the right to safe and healthful working conditions. In order to ensure their protection from job hazards, workers can:
■ File a confidential complaint with OSHA to have their workplace inspected.
■ Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be done in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
■ Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace. Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in the workplace.
■ Get copies of their workplace medical records.
■ Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.
■ File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated against by their employer as the result of requesting an inspection or using any of their other rights under the OSH Act.
■ File a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a “whistleblower” under the additional 21 federal statutes for which OSHA has jurisdiction.
Employers must provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. OSHA further requires that employers must try to eliminate or reduce hazards first by making feasible changes in working conditions – switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air are examples of effective ways to get rid of or minimize risks – rather than just relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs.
Employers must also:
■ Prominently display the official OSHA poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act. This poster is free and can be downloaded from www.osha.gov.
■ Inform workers about hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets and other methods.
■ Train workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
■ Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
■ Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling, required by some OSHA standards.
■ Provide hearing exams or other medical tests required by OSHA standards.
■ Post OSHA citations and injury and illness data where workers can see them.
■ Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.
■ Not retaliate against workers for using their rights under the law, including their right to report a work-related injury or illness.