The ability for the workforce to report safety concerns and correct workplace problems is protected by the United States. The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is a federal organization that works with private sector workers and some public sector employees to assure healthy and safe working conditions by enforcing workplace standards and laws.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration aids both employers and employees by holding work-related health and safety to a high standard through the process of receiving complaints about businesses that may have hazardous conditions.
In short, OSHA’s mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. OSHA accomplishes this mission by requiring employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free and clear of known dangers.
What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a United States labor law that gives employees and their representatives the right to file a complaint and request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection of their workplace. They can do this if they believe their employer is not following the standards set out by OSHA in maintaining safe working conditions.
As an employee, you do not need to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file a complaint; you must only believe that your workplace is not maintaining safe and healthy working conditions. OSHA citations are only issues for current violations or those that existed within the past 6 months.
Therefore, you should seek to file any complaints with OSHA as soon as possible after noticing a workplace hazard or lack of compliance with OSHA standards. Complaints from employees or their representatives are confidential and taken very seriously by OSHA.
Employers are required to comply with OSHA standards detailed in the act or they are subject to fines and penalties by OSHA. There are four major categories that are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act: general industry, construction, maritime, and agriculture. If details about a specific hazard are not covered in the act, employers and employees must adhere to Section 5(a)(1) of the act (the “general duty” clause).
This part of the act states that employers must provide “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to [their] employees.” You are granted many privileges as a worker under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, including the rights to:
- Receive proper training from your employer regarding safe workplace practices;
- Request that your employer provide information regarding OSHA standards, workplace injuries and illnesses, job hazards, and other rights;
- Request that your employer correct any dangers or safety violations; and
- Find out the results of any inspection conducted by OSHA.
How Do I File a Complaint with OSHA?
As noted above, if you believe that there is a serious hazard at your workplace or that your employer is not following OSHA standards, you should file a complaint with OSHA. This should be done as soon as possible after noticing the hazard or lack of compliance so that OSHA will be allowed to issue a citation to correct the issue. Once again, OSHA citations may only be issued for current violations or violations that occurred within the past 6 months.
There are many different ways of filing a complaint with OSHA, including:
- Filing a Complaint Through Fax or Mail: You may visit OSHA’s website and download their complaint form, or request a copy of the form from your local OSHA regional or area office, to complete and mail back to your local OSHA regional or area office. Written complaints will typically include your name, address, and telephone number so that OSHA may follow up with you, and they should be signed by you or your representative in order to ensure an onsite OSHA inspection;
- Filing a Complaint by Phone: Telephone is another option in filing an OSHA complaint. OSHA staff will be able to discuss your complaint and respond to your questions. However, if there is a current emergency or serious hazard that is immediately life-threatening, you should call your local OSHA regional or area office immediately to inspect and correct the condition; or
- Filing a Complaint Online: You may file a complaint online by filling out the online complaint form on OSHA’s website. Complaints received online from employees in OSHA-approved states will be forwarded to the appropriate state plan for response. It is important to note that written complaints received by OSHA through mail or fax are more likely to result in an on-site OSHA inspection.
When you speak with an OSHA officer or when you describe your complaint to a lawyer, you must present certain information, such as:
- A description of the danger or lack of compliance with OSHA standards;
- Where the danger exists; and
- Whether you have presented the problem to your employer.
It is important to note that as a union member, you may benefit from speaking with your labor union before filing an OSHA complaint. The union may be able to represent you and file an OSHA complaint on your behalf, and they are likely to be in a better position to help defend your claim. Further, as a union or non-union employee, you may benefit from discussing your options and possible courses of action with a lawyer.
What Happens After Filing an OSHA Complaint?
After receiving your complaint filed through one of the methods listed above, OSHA will decide whether your concern will be investigated or inspected. If OSHA decides to investigate your complaint they will likely contact your employee, describe the complaint and simply ask the employer to remedy the issue.
Then, your employer will have five days to comply with OSHA standards and respond to OSHA by eliminating the hazard, beginning the process of eliminating the hazard, or outright denying the accusation. OSHA may also do an onsite inspection of your complaint where they send out an inspector to visit and evaluate your workplace.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File an OSHA Complaint?
Although it is not a requirement to file a complaint with OSHA, if you find yourself in a situation concerning your health or safety while at your workplace, you should consider consulting an experienced and well qualified employment lawyer to assist you.
A licensed employment lawyer in your area will be able to inform you of your rights and duties as an employee, as well as assist you in communicating with OSHA to resolve your safety concerns.