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Rights and Responsibilities
Employees have the right to a safe workplace free of known health and safety hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the government agency in charge of setting standards, providing information and training to employees and employers, and enforcing safe-workplace laws. The primary law covering worker safety is the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970.
OSHA covers most private sector employees and federal government employees.
Covered employers are required to:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules, and regulations issued under the OSH Act.
- Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards.
- Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment and properly maintain this equipment.
- Use color codes, posters, labels, or signs to warn employees of potential hazards.
- Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.
- Provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
- Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster informing employees of their rights and responsibilities.
- Report to the nearest OSHA office all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and all work-related inpatient hospitalizations, all amputations and all losses of an eye within 24 hours.
- Provide employees, former employees, and their representatives access to the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses.
- Provide access to employee medical records and exposure records to employees or their authorized representatives.
- Post OSHA citations at or near the work area involved.
Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace must develop and implement a written hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and proper precautions.
Employees have the right to:
- Be trained in a language the employees understand
- Work on machines that are safe
- Be provided required safety gear, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls
- Be protected from toxic chemicals
- Request an OSHA inspection and speak to the inspector
- Report an injury or illness and get copies of medical records
- See copies of the workplace injury and illness log
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses
- Get copies of test results done to find hazards in the workplace
Many OSHA standards require employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) when it is necessary to protect employees from job-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Usually, OSHA requires employers to pay for PPE when it is used to comply with OSHA standards. PPE typically includes hard hats, gloves, goggles, safety glasses, welding helmets and goggles, face shields, chemical protective equipment, and fall protection equipment.
WHEN DOES AN EMPLOYEE HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO WORK?
If unsafe working conditions clearly present a risk of death or serious physical harm (“imminent danger”), an employee has the right to refuse to perform a dangerous task if all of the following conditions are met:
- the employee asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so;
- the employee refused “in good faith” to work, which means the employee must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists;
- a reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
- there is not enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, for OSHA to inspect.
The employee can refuse to return to work until the employer eliminates the danger or is assigned another task.
If a dangerous condition does not create the risk of imminent danger, the employee should inform the employer of the problem in writing. If the employer fails to correct the condition, the worker can file a complaint with OSHA.
It is illegal for an employer to fire, demote, transfer, or otherwise retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint. An employee has 30 days from the date of the alleged retaliation to file a whistleblower complaint.