The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is a governmental agency that aims to provide, regulate, and enforce safety and health standards in various workplace settings. In the majority of situations, if employees have any complaints or concerns regarding safety at their workplace, they will have to file a complaint with OSHA.
OSHA works with private sector employees as well as some public sector employees in order to ensure their working conditions are healthy and safe by enforcing workplace laws and standards. OSHA holds employees and employers by holding work-related health and safety to a high standard by the complaints process regarding possible hazardous conditions in the workplace.
Filing a complaint may lead to an investigation by OSHA agents as well as further legal action, if needed. That ability for employees to report safety concerns as well as correct workplace issues is protected in the United States.
At the most basic level, the mission of OSHA is to prevent work-related:
- Illnesses; and
OSHA accomplishes their mission by requiring an employer to provide employees with working conditions which are free from known dangers.
What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a law which provides employees and their representatives the right to file complaints and to request an inspection by OSHA of their workplace. Individuals can do this if they believe their employers are not following the standards which are set by OSHA in order to maintain safe working conditions.
Employees are not required to know whether or not a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file their complaint. An employee is only required to believe that their workplace is not maintaining safe and healthy workplace conditions.
An OSHA citation is only issued for current violations or violations which existed within the past 6 months. Therefore, an individual should seek to file a complaint with OSHA as soon as possible after discovering a workplace hazard of a lack of compliance with OSHA standards.
A complaint from an employee or their representative is confidential and is taken very seriously by OSHA. an employer is required to comply with OSHA standards which are detailed in the Act or they may be subject to penalties and fines from OSHA.
There are four major categories which are governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, including:
- General industry;
- Maritime; and
If the details of a specific hazard are not covered in the Act, an employer and employee are required to adhere to Section 5(a)(1) of the act, known as the general duty clause.
This portion of the Act provides that an employer is required to 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.” An individual is granted numerous privileges as an employee under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, including the right to:
- Receive proper training from an employer regarding safe workplace practices;
- Request that an employer provide information regarding:
- Request that an employer correct any dangers or safety violations; and
- Find out the results of any inspection that is conducted by OSHA.
How Do I File a Complaint with OSHA?
As previously noted, if an individual believes that there is a serious hazard at their workplace or that their employer is not adhering to OSHA standards, they should file a complaint with OSHA. filing a complaint should be done as soon as possible after noticing the lack of compliance or hazard so that OSHA can issue a citation to the employer for the correct issue.
It is worth repeating that an OSHA citation may only be issued for a current violation or a violation which occurred within the past 6 months. There are many different ways an individual can file a complaint with OSHA, including:
- Filing a complaint by fax or mail;
- Filing a complaint by phone; or
- Filing a complaint online.
An individual can visit OSHA’s website and download the complaint form or request a copy of the complaint form from their local OSHA regional area office to complete and mail back to their local OSHA regional or area office. A written complaint will typically include certain information so that OSHA can follow up with the employee, including their:
- Address; and
- Telephone number.
The complaint should be signed by an individual’s representative in order to ensure that an OSHA onsite inspection will occur. A complaint can also be filed by phone.
OSHA staff will be able to discuss an individual’s complaint as well as respond to their questions. If, however, there is a current emergency or a serious hazard which is immediately life-threatening, they should call their local OSHA regional or area office immediately to inspect and correct the issue.
An individual may file their complaint online by filling out the complaint form on OSHA’s website. A complaint which is received online in an OSHA-approved state will be forwarded to the appropriate state office for response.
It is important to be aware that a complaint which is received by OSHA by mail or fax is more likely to result in an on-site OSHA inspection. When an individual speaks with an OSHA officer or when they describe their complaint to an attorney, they must present certain information, including:
- A description of the lack of compliance with OSHA standards or danger;
- Where the danger exists; and
- Whether the individual has presented the problem to their employer.
It is important to note that if an individual is a union member, they may benefit from speaking with their labor union prior to filing a complaint with OSHA. The individual’s union may be able to represent them and file an OSHA complaint on their behalf.
In addition, they are likely to be in a better position to help an individual defend their claim. No matter whether an individual is a union or non-union employee, they may benefit from discussing your options and possible courses of action with a lawyer.
What Happens After Filing an OSHA Complaint?
After OSHA receives an individual’s complaint which was filed through one of the methods that was listed above, OHSA will decide whether the concern will be investigated or inspected. If OSHA decides to investigate an individual’s claim, they will likely contact the individual’s employer, describe the complaint to them, and simply request that the employer remedy the issue.
After this, an individual’s employer will have 5 days comply with OSHA standards and to respond to OSHA by:
- Eliminating the hazard;
- Beginning the process of eliminating the hazard; or
- Outright denying the accusation against them.
OSHA may also conduct an on-site inspection of the complaint where they send out an inspector to visit and evaluate an individual’s workplace.
An individual’s employer then has 5 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 conduct an on-site inspection of an individual’s complaint where they send out an inspector to visit and evaluate the workplace.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File an OSHA Complaint?
Although it is not a requirement for you to have a lawyer to file a complaint with OSHA, if you are in a situation which involves your health or safety while you are at the workplace, it is important to consult with an experienced worker’s compensation lawyer who can assist you. Your lawyer can inform you of your rights and duties as an employee and assist you with communicating with OSHA in order to resolve your safety concerns.
A lawyer can provide assistance whether you are considering filing a complaint or you have already done so. Your attorney can assist with the complaint process and help ensure your complaint is filed correctly and effectively.