What Rights Do You Have Under OSHA?
Under OSHA law, you are entitled to work conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. Workers have certain rights, under OSHA law, and employers have certain responsibilities.
Workers have the right to the following:
- A safe and healthful workplace.
- Right to be free from retaliation for exercising safety and health rights.
- Raise a safety or health concern with your employer or OSHA, or report a work-related injury or illness without being retaliated against.
- Receive information and training on job hazards, including all hazardous substances in your workplace.
- Request an OSHA inspection of your workplace if you believe unsafe or unhealthy conditions exist. OSHA will keep your name confidential. You have the right to have a representative contact OSHA on your behalf.
- Refuse to do a task if you believe it is unsafe or unhealthful.
- Participate (or have your representative participate) in an OSHA inspection and speak privately to the inspector.
- File a complaint with OSHA within 30 days (by phone, online or by mail) if you have been retaliated against for using your rights.
- See any OSHA citations issued to your employer.
- Request copies of your medical records tests that measure hazards in the workplace, and the workplace injury and illness log.
Right to Know About Hazardous Chemicals
More than 30 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to one or more chemical hazards. There are 650,000 existing hazardous chemical products, and hundreds of new ones are being introduced annually. This poses a severe problem for exposed workers and their employers.
You have a right to know and understand the hazards of chemicals used in your workplace. To give employees the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to work with hazardous chemicals, employers must develop a written Hazard Communication Program (HCP)that includes information on:
- the classification of health and physical hazards and chemical mixtures;
- label, including signal words, pictograms, and hazard statements;
- Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) containing 16 sections of information; and
- worker information and training on the HCP
The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) – 29 CFR 1910.1200 provides workers exposed to hazardous chemicals with the identities and hazards of those materials, as well as appropriate protective measures. When workers have such information, they can take steps to protect themselves from experiencing adverse effects from exposure.
For more information on this topic, see Course 705, Hazard Communication Program.
Right to Information About Injuries/Illnesses
OSHA’s Recordkeeping rule requires most employers with more than 10 workers to log injuries and illnesses.
- Workers have the right to report an injury and review the current OSHA 300 log. Remember, it is against the OSHA law to retaliate or discriminate against a worker for reporting an injury or illness.
- Workers also have the right to view the annually posted summary of the injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300A)
For more on OSHA recordkeeping, download the OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 forms and instructions.
Employers must report the following work-related events to OSHA:
- In-patient hospitalizations of one or more employees
- Losses of an eye
Right to Complain or Request Corrections
According to OSHA law, you may bring safety and health concerns to your employer without fear of discharge or discrimination.
If you become aware of a hazard where you’re working, be sure to notify your immediate supervisor. If you are uncomfortable doing that, contact the safety manager or a member of your safety committee. If employees are afraid to report their concerns about hazards and unsafe practices, there may be a fundamental lack of trust between management and labor in the organization.
OSHA rules protect workers who raise concerns to their employer or OSHA about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in the workplace.
Right to Training
Workers have a right to get training from employers on various health and safety hazards and standards that employers must follow. No person should ever have to be injured, become ill, or die for a paycheck.
- Training covers chemical hazards, equipment hazards, noise, confined spaces, fall hazards in construction, and personal protective equipment. Training must be in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
- Training must be in a language, and vocabulary workers can understand
See OSHA’s Publication 2254, Training Requirements in OSHA Standards for more information on the required training in General Industry, Maritime, Construction, Agriculture, and Federal Employee Programs.
Right to Participate in OSHA Inspections
When the OSHA inspector arrives, workers and their representatives have the right to talk privately with the OSHA inspector before and after the inspection.
- A worker representative may also go along on the inspection.
- Where there is no union or employee representative, the OSHA inspector must talk confidentially with a reasonable number of workers during the course of the investigation.
- Workers can talk to the inspector privately.
- They 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.
- Workers can find out about inspection results and abatement measures and get involved in any meetings or hearings related to the inspection.
- Workers may object to the date set for the violation to be corrected and be notified if the employer files a contest.
Right to Examine Exposure and Medical Records
Under OSHA’s standard 1910.1020, Access to employee exposure and medical records, employees, their designated representatives, and OSHA representatives have the right to examine and copy their own 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 diseases.
Examples of toxic substances and harmful physical agents are:
- metals and dust, such as lead, cadmium, and silica;
- biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi; and
- physical stress includes noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
OSHA standards require employers to measure exposure to harmful substances. “Exposure” or “exposed” means that an employee is subjected to a toxic substance or harmful physical agent in the course of employment through any route of entry (inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or absorption, etc.), and includes past exposure and potential (e.g., accidental or possible) exposure.
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.
Right to Refuse Dangerous Work
Workers 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” belief means that even if an imminent danger is not found, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist.
Your right to refuse to do a task is protected if ALL the following four conditions are met:
- Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
- You refused to work in “good faith.” This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists; and
- A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
- Due to the urgency of the hazard, there isn’t enough time to correct it through regular enforcement channels, such as requesting an OSHA inspection.
Right to File an OSHA Complaint
You may file a complaint with OSHA if you believe a violation of a safety or health standard or imminent danger exists in your workplace. You may request that your name not be revealed to your employer. You can file a complaint on OSHA’s website, in writing or by calling 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 the above conditions are met, you should take the following steps:
- Ask your employer to correct the hazard or to assign other work;
- Tell your employer that you won’t perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected; and
- Remain at the worksite until ordered to leave by your employer.
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.
The table below offers a few “IF/THEN” scenarios to follow.
The whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA generally provide that employers may not discharge or otherwise retaliate against an employee because the employee has filed a complaint or exercised any rights provided to employees. Each law requires that complaints be filed within 30 days after the alleged retaliation. Complaints may be filed orally or in writing, and OSHA will accept the complaint in any language. As a result of filing a complaint, workers cannot be subject to:
- Applying or issuing a policy that provides for an unfavorable personnel action due to activity protected by a whistleblower law enforced by OSHA
- Blacklisting, demotions, or failing to hire or rehire
- Disciplinary actions
- Denying benefits, over time or promotion
- Firing, suspending or laying off
- Intimidation or making threats
- Re-assignment to a less desirable position, including one adversely affecting prospects for promotion
- Reduction in pay or hours
Help is available from OSHA for whistleblowers. See the OSHA Fact Sheet: Your Rights as a Whistleblower for detailed information.
It is recommended you announce and/or post the following:
“If you have been punished or discriminated against for using your rights, you must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged reprisal for most complaints.“
No form is required, but you must send a letter or call the OSHA Area Office nearest you to report the discrimination within 30 days of the alleged discrimination.