What is OSHA: Topic 2 - What rights do you have under OSHA?
A. Right to a Safe & Healthful Workplace
Most importantly, the creation of OSHA provided workers the right to a safe and healthful workplace. Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act states: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." A safe and healthful workplace means that hazards are removed and workers are trained. If a hazard cannot be removed completely, protection (for example, respirators or earplugs) must be provided.
Some examples of a safe/healthful workplace include:
- Fall protection and training are provided and required when working at high levels on a construction site.
- Machines and equipment with rotating and moving parts are guarded.
If not discussed, provide additional examples, such as:
- Trenches are inspected and have protective systems in place.
- Proper confined space entry procedures, testing, equipment, and training are present.
- Noise levels are controlled. When levels are still high, workers are given hearing tests and are provided training and hearing protection.
- Protection from chemical hazards is provided, including an evaluation of chemicals used, a written program, Safety Data Sheets, worker protection (for example, respirators or gloves), and information and training.
B. Right to Know about Hazardous Chemicals
Another important right is the Right to Know about hazardous substances in your workplace. Employers must have a written, complete hazard communication program that includes information on:
- Container labeling,
- Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), and
- Worker training. The training must include the physical and health hazards of the chemicals and how workers can protect themselves; including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect workers, such as work practices, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment.
The program must also include a list of the hazardous chemicals in each work area and the means the employer uses to inform workers of the hazards of non-routine tasks. In addition, the program must explain how the employer will inform other employers of hazards to which their workers may be exposed (for example, contract workers).
C. Right to Information about Injuries and Illnesses in your Workplace
OSHA’s Recordkeeping rule requires most employers with more than 10 workers to keep a log of injuries and illnesses. The log, which is also called the OSHA 300, must contain all work-related injuries and illnesses resulting in lost workdays, restricted work or transfer to another job, as well as any incident requiring more than first aid treatment.
You have the right to review the current log, as well as the logs stored for the past 5 years. The employer must provide this by the end of the next workday. The names and other information on the log may not be removed, unless the case is a “privacy concern case.”
You also have the right to view the annually posted summary of the injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300A).
D. Right to Complain or Request Hazard Correction from your Employer
Workers may bring up safety and health concerns in the workplace to their employers without fear of discharge or discrimination, as long as the complaint is made in good faith. OSHA regulations [29CFR 1977.9(c)] protect workers who complain to their employer about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in the workplace. You cannot be transferred, denied a raise, have your hours reduced, be fired, or punished in any other way because you have exercised any right afforded to you under the OSH Act.
Since you are often closest to potential safety and health hazards, you have a vested interest in reporting problems so that the employer gets them fixed. If the hazard is not getting corrected, you should then contact OSHA.
E. Right to Training
You have a right to get training from your employer on a variety of health and safety hazards and standards that your employer must follow. We’re already discussed the training required under OSHA’s Hazard Communication (Right to Know) standard. Other required training includes lockout-tagout, bloodborne pathogens, noise, confined spaces, fall hazards in construction, personal protective equipment, and a variety of other subjects.
F. Right to Hazardous Exposure Records and Medical Records
Under OSHA’s standard 1910.1020, you have the right to examine and copy exposure and medical records, including records of workplace monitoring or measuring a toxic substance. This is important if you have been exposed to toxic substances or harmful physical agents in the workplace, as this regulation may help you detect, prevent, and treat occupational disease.
Examples of toxic substances and harmful physical agents are:
- Metals and dusts, such as, lead, cadmium, and silica.
- Biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Physical stress, such as noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
OSHA standards require employers to measure exposure to harmful substances, and workers or their representatives have the right to observe the testing and examine the results. If the exposure levels are above the limit set by the standard, the employer must tell workers what will be done to reduce their exposure.
G. Right to File a Complaint with OSHA
You may file a complaint with OSHA if you believe a violation of a safety or health standard, or an imminent danger situation, exists in your workplace. You may request that your name not be revealed to your employer. You can file a complaint on OSHA’s web site, in writing or by telephone to the nearest OSHA area office. You may also call the office and speak with an OSHA compliance officer about a hazard, violation, or the process for filing a complaint.
If you file a complaint, you have the right to find out OSHA’s action on the complaint and request a review if an inspection is not made.
H. Right to Participate in an OSHA Inspection
If an OSHA inspection is conducted in your workplace, you have the right to have your representative accompany the inspector on the inspection. You also have the right to talk to the inspector privately. You may point out hazards, describe injuries, illnesses or near misses that resulted from those hazards and describe any concern you have about a safety or health issue. You also have the right to find out about inspection results and abatement measures, and get involved in any meetings or hearings related to the inspection. You may also object to the date set for the violation to be corrected and be notified if the employer files a contest.
I. Right to be Free from Retaliation for Exercising Safety and Health Rights
Workers 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 says the employer shall not punish or discriminate against employees for exercising such rights as complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards. Workers are also protected for participation in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings, and other OSHA-related activities. Workers also have the right to refuse to do a job if they believe in good faith that they are exposed to an imminent danger. "Good faith" means that even if an imminent danger is not found to exist, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist. Since the conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very stringent, refusing work should be an action taken as a last resort. If time permits, the condition should be reported to OSHA or the appropriate government agency.
If you believe you have been punished for exercising your safety and health rights, you must contact OSHA within 30 days.
J. Worker Responsibilities
OSHA holds employers responsible for the safety and health conditions in the workplace and does not cite workers for violations. However, Section 5(b) of the OSHA Act states that each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all applicable rules, regulations and orders.
Workers are encouraged to follow all appropriate safety and health rules, and wear protective equipment while working.