OSHA Protection for a Safer Workplace
While all states have workers’ compensation schemes to help out after injuries on the job, there is very little regulation or laws to protect worker from harm before an accident happens. However, one federal law provides mechanisms to do just that. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed by Congress to stop workers from being killed or hurt at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or “OSHA” as it commonly known, is the federal agency tasked with implementing the laws to ensure safer work sites. The law provides workplace injury protection to workers and gives them a right to a “safe and healthful” workplace free from known dangers that could cause injury. The law also gives working people certain powerful rights to ensure that employers follow the rules and prevent on the job injuries.
Workers’ Rights under OSHA
Some of the more important rights conferred upon workers by the OSHA laws include:
- Any employee can file a confidential complaint with OSHA to have the workplace inspected to make sure it is safe.
- All workers are entitled to receive proper training about dangers and ways to prevent injuries at their workplace.
- The ability to review records of work-related injuries that have happened on the job.
- If OSHA conducts an inspection of the workplace, workers are entitled to participate in it and speak privately with the inspector.
- If an employee is retaliated against by their employer for requesting an inspection or exercising any of their OSHA rights, he or she can file a complaint.
Employer Responsibilities to Ensure a Safe Workplace
While workers have OSHA rights to protect them, employers have certain duties or responsibilities under the law to make sure workers are protected. Specifically, all employers are required to:
- Provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards.
- Follow all OSHA safety and health standards.
- Find and correct safety and health problems.
- Attempt to eliminate or reduce hazards by making feasible changes in the working conditions.
- Display the OSHA poster which outlines the employee rights and employer requirements. It is free to be downloaded at www.osha.gov.
- Train workers and tell them about dangers.
- Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and sicknesses.
- Test the workplace for dangers such as air sampling.
- Provide hearing exams and other medical tests if required.
- Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.
The final requirement listed – notification of OSHA of an injury or death – is often overlooked by employers and should be done by employees or family members if the employer fails to do so. Attorneys for deceased or injured workers often make an OSHA notification. It can be very helpful to prove a gross negligence case in the event of a death under the workers’ compensation laws or to establish liability in a non-subscriber worker injury or death case. It is not uncommon for a shoddy employer to have a dangerous worksite and then try to cover up the danger after the accident. Having OSHA investigators arrive on the scene to investigate helps preserve evidence to assist in seeking compensation for the hurt worker or the surviving family.
Employer Duties to Protect Workers from Injury
The “General Duty Clause” of the OSHA laws provides that all employers must provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards. OSHA also has rules employers must follow based upon the type of employer – General Industry, Maritime, Construction and Agriculture. Some of these rule require employers to:
- Provide fall protection, such as a safety harness and lifeline. Certainly, this seems like common sense but how often do you see workers on top of buildings or other structures with no safety harness attached? It happens too many times a day.
- Prevent trenching cave-ins. Cave-ins are a common cause of death among workers in Texas and when employers try to cut corners by not providing the proper equipment to prevent them, tragedy often happens.
- Put guards on machines. We have had family members left without a father when an employer removed safety guards from a piece of machinery. This is quite common when the law-breaking employer wants to speed up production at the risk of employee injury and death.
- Prevent exposure to harmful levels of substances. Some jobs necessarily require the use or exposure to dangerous chemicals such as asbestos or lead. Employers are required to ensure that workers are protected from amounts that can cause health problems.
Workers Protected from Retaliation
The Federal OSHA law absolutely prohibits employers from retaliating against workers from exercising their rights such as filing an OSHA complaint, participating in an inspection, raising a safety issue or any other protected actions. The employer cannot punish a worker by taking an “adverse action” such as: firing, laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime, disciplining, intimidating, threatening reassigning, reducing hours or any other action which negatively affects the employee’s working conditions.
If you work for a company that has an unsafe workplace, it is very important that it is reported to OSHA so the agency can investigate and make them comply with the safety laws. If a family member has been injured or killed on the job, OSHA can investigate the cause. In some cases, the investigation and findings made by OSHA can be used an a civil lawsuit against the company for the injury or death.
Call Michael P. Fleming if your loved one was injured or killed on the job. He has practiced law for 30 years and can make sure a proper investigation takes place.