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OSHA Basics: Your Rights on the Job

Steps to Take For Reporting Unsafe Work Conditions

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970 is a United States labor law that governs occupational health and safety in both the federal government and private sector. Congress enacted OSHA in 1970, and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. It was enacted to ensure employees have safe and healthy working conditions by establishing standards and enforcing those standards be complied with regarding training, education, outreach, and assistance.

OSHA Standards

OSHA standards are rules that describe the process that employers must use to ensure that their workers are not subjected to avoidable hazards. There are standards for construction work, maritime operations, and then for general industry, which is applicable to most private sector worksites. OSHA standards include requiring employers to provide fall protection, preventing trench or ditch cave-ins, preventing infectious disease, ensuring workers can safely enter a confined space, prevention of exposure to inhalants or harmful substances, making sure machinery has safety guards, providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respirators, and providing training for specific dangerous jobs.

What Are Unsafe Work Environments or Conditions?

As an example, if you work in a coalmine, your employer has specific safety protocol that must be followed. If you are sent in an area without a respirator, and OSHA requires respirator use, then that is an OSHA violation and an unsafe work environment. Or, if you work construction and your employer does not have the equipment and tools needed to protect you from a trench cave-in, that is an unsafe work environment.

If you are sent in to remove asbestos without safety gear, proper training, and equipment, or if your job requires you to climb and use scaffolding and you are not provided restraints, proper training, and protective equipment to prevent a fall, then you are subjected to an unsafe work environment. Any of these are legitimate reasons for pursuing a complaint because of an unsafe work environment or unsafe working conditions.

How To Report Unsafe Working Conditions

Your first step in pursuing a complaint will be to notify your employer of your concerns. You should put it in writing and be sure to document any conversations and the response or lack of a response. Make sure you indicate the date and time of the complaint and who you spoke with.

If your complaint is not addressed, or if your employer does not reach a satisfactory resolution with you to correct the hazard, you will need to pursue a complaint with your local OSHA office. You can either file the complaint online or by fax, mail, or email. You can also call 1-800-321-6742 to connect with your local OSHA office.

In Pennsylvania, there are six OSHA offices, Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Wilkes-Barre. You will need to file in whichever offices is located in your area.

Protections After Filing A Complaint

If you file a complaint with OSHA, you cannot be fired from your job or retaliated against. There are federal laws to protect whistleblowers, and if your employer retaliates against you by demoting you, changing your work schedule, reducing your pay or hours, or even firing you, then you have grounds to pursue legal action for their federal violations.




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