Unsafe Working Conditions and Imminent Danger
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What is Considered to be an “Unsafe Working Condition”?
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to provide all employees with safe work environment. Under OSHA, an “unsafe working condition” may include:
- Improperly maintained equipment, tools, or machines
- Failure to maintain working warning systems (such as fire alarms or even warning posters)
- Lack of consistent inspections of workplace conditions
- Poorly maintained records of injuries on the job or work-related injuries
- Failing to post OSHA announcements in visible locations
Of course, safety standards will vary according to each type of job that is involved. For example, work at a construction site will by nature involve different risks than work at a desk job. Thus, employers are usually required to enforce the same safety standards that are applicable to the line of work involved.
An employee may report unsafe working conditions to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA will then launch an investigation to determine whether the employer may be held liable for any injuries or violations.
What Does “Imminent Danger” Mean in Relation to Workplace Safety?
The term “Imminent Danger” refers to any condition in the workplace that poses an immediate harm of injury, illness, or death to an employee. For example, a roof that is about to collapse may be considered an “imminent danger”, especially if it is ready to give way at any moment.
In many jurisdictions, a worker has the right to refuse to continue working if an imminent danger is present at work. Most laws allow the worker to stop working until the employer either eliminates the conditions or investigates it to determine that no harm is present.
Refusing to work due to an imminent danger is usually possible where:
- The employee or employees hold a good faith, reasonable belief that the condition poses a substantial, immediate risk of harm to workers;
- The employer is not willing to remedy the dangerous condition;
- The danger is so immediate that there is not enough time to file a report with OSHA or a similar agency;
- There are no other reasonable alternatives available to the employees
What if I Have an Unsafe Working Condition at My Job, but is Not an “Imminent Danger?
Unsafe work conditions that do not pose an imminent danger can be resolved through various routes, such as:
- Filing a written complaint with the company’s internal conflict resolution department (i.e. human resources or safety management)
- Filing a complaint with OSHA or a similar government administrative agency
- Filing a private lawsuit against the employer, especially where the conditions have led to actual injury or financial loss
In many instances, the employee must first file an OSHA complaint. In such jurisdictions, the employee can only file a private lawsuit after an investigation by OSHA has proven unsatisfactory. These filing requirements can vary by location, so you may wish to contact a lawyer if you need help filing a claim.
Finally, bear in mind that you don’t actually have to be injured in order to file a report regarding unsafe working conditions. Filing a report helps to ensure acceptable levels of safety for you and other co-workers. By law, an employer cannot ever fire an employee in retaliation for filing an OSHA report.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Unsafe Working Conditions?
Unsafe working conditions should be identified and addressed immediately. If you have an unsafe condition at your workplace, you may need a lawyer to help you with the necessary steps for filing. This is especially true if the conditions pose an imminent threat of danger and require you to stop working. An experienced lawyer in your area can help you with filing and can represent your interests in court during a lawsuit.
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Last Modified: 02-08-2012 11:56 AM PST
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