What is OSHA: Topic 6 - Where can you go for help?
A. Sources within the Workplace/Worksite
There are many resources available to you if you want to find out more information about a safety or health issue in your workplace. Some sources are:
- Employer or supervisor, co-workers and union representatives – OSHA encourages workers and employers to work together to reduce hazards. If possible, you should discuss safety and health problems with your employer. You can also talk over your concerns with other workers or your union representatives (if there is a union).
- Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for information on chemicals – Earlier in this session, we talked about the Safety Data Sheet, also called an SDS, and what information it supplies. If you are working with a chemical, the SDS can give you important information about its hazards and the precautions and personal protective equipment needed to work safely with it.
- Labels and warning signs – Labels and signs can show hazard information to workers and can be useful in providing additional information and making you aware of a potential safety or health hazard. However, signs are not intended to take the place of actual hazard correction. For example, a “Danger” sign on an unguarded piece of machinery does not meet OSHA requirements because the hazard is still present. OSHA standards such as those for hazard communication, egress, confined space and Bloodborne Pathogens require labels and signs. The employer must make sure that each sign or label posted can be understood by all workers, so the signs must be bilingual if workers do not understand or read English.
- Employee orientation manuals or other training materials – Orientation manuals and training materials about your job should include information about how to work safely. As we discussed earlier in this session, employers are required to provide training to workers exposed to certain hazards, including chemicals, falls, and confined spaces. All manuals and training materials should be written clearly and spell out what you need to know about your job hazards. They can also serve as a resource if you have questions or concerns at a later date.
- Work tasks and procedures instruction – A written job or task instruction can provide information about the proper and safe way to perform a job. OSHA considers some jobs and tasks very hazardous, such as locking out machinery, and requires employers to have written procedures. If you have questions about a new job or task, or a job or task that has changed, be sure to ask for the written procedures and for additional training on them.
B. Sources Outside the Workplace/Worksite
If you cannot find out the safety and health information you need in your workplace, there are many resources available outside the workplace.
- OSHA website: http://www.osha.gov and OSHA offices
If you have internet access, you will find that the OSHA website has a lot of safety and health information and links to resources that can help you.
For example, from the Home Page, you can:
- Find information in Spanish from the OSHA en Español page,
- Locate Fact Sheets and QuickCards by going to the Publications page.
OSHA Fact Sheets provide basic background information on safety and health hazards, and
QuickCards are small, laminated cards that provide brief, plain language safety and health information for workers. For example, there are QuickCards on fall hazards, carbon monoxide, and pneumatic nail gun safety.
You can contact OSHA by calling or visiting your local area or regional office for safety and health information or to discuss filing a complaint. Compliance Assistance Specialists in the area offices conduct many training sessions and have training materials and information that can be useful.
NIOSH is OSHA’s sister agency, with a focus on research and training. NIOSH can be a great resource for workers. NIOSH also conducts Health Hazard Evaluations (HHEs) of workplaces in cases where workers are getting sick from an unknown cause or are exposed to an agent or working condition that is not regulated by OSHA. A worker can request an HHE if he or she is currently an employee at the workplace of concern and has the signatures of two other workers.
Other resources that can help you get information on safety and health concerns include:
- OTI Education Centers (OTIEC) and other University occupational and environmental health programs. The OTIECs offer the most popular OSHA courses and a variety of safety and health programs including community outreach efforts, Spanish-language courses, and youth initiatives.
- Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers can be a resource on the health effects of toxic substances, proper medical and first aid treatment, and other health-related issues. If you are discussing a health concern with your health care provider, try to provide them with as much information about the chemical or substance as possible. For example, if you are getting headaches at work, try to get the names and SDSs or labels of the chemicals to which you are exposed.
- Public libraries have books, journals and magazines on various safety and health topics, as well as internet access.
- Other local, community-based resources, such as the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) and local COSH groups in California, New England, the Northeast, the Midwest and the South, can be a valuable resource. COSH organizations around the U.S. are committed to promoting worker health and safety through training, education, and advocacy.
C. How to File an OSHA Complaint
If you, your co-workers and/or your union representative determine that an OSHA inspection is needed to get workplace hazards corrected, you have several options.
- You can download the complaint form from OSHA’s website, complete it and mail or fax it to OSHA. A written, signed complaint submitted to the OSHA area or State Plan office is most likely to result in an onsite inspection.
- You can file a complaint online. However, most online complaints are handled by OSHA’s phone/fax system, which means they are resolved informally over the phone.
- You can telephone or visit your local regional or area office to discuss your concerns. After the discussion, OSHA staff can give or send you a complaint form if you wish to file.
- Note that if a hazard is life-threatening, call the Regional or local office or 1-800-321-OSHA immediately.
Completing the complaint form
Highlight the following about the complaint form prior to the Small Group Activity:
- Be specific and include appropriate details: The information on the complaint form may be the only description of the hazard that the inspector will see before the inspection. The inspector will base his or her research and planning on this information.
- Establishment Name, Address, & Type of Business: Be thorough and specific. The inspector’s research on the company and the industry’s hazards will be based on this information.
- Hazard Description/Location: The hazard description is the most important part of the form. Your answer should explain the hazards clearly. If your complaint is about chemicals, identify them whenever possible and attach copies of labels or SDSs if you can. Identify the location so the inspector will know where to look.
- Has this condition been brought to the attention of the employer or another government agency? You should indicate on the form if you have tried to get the employer to fix the hazard before filing the complaint. Also, if another agency, such as a local fire or building department, has been notified of these hazards, OSHA may want to consult with them.
- Do NOT reveal my name: OSHA will keep your name off the complaint, if you wish. Remember that discrimination for health and safety activity is illegal. If you are a union representative, you may wish to have your name on the complaint.
- Signature and address: It is important to sign the complaint if you want OSHA to conduct an onsite inspection. Also, your address will allow OSHA to send copies of inspection related materials to you.