The adoption of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 allowed for the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The function of OSHA is to reduce hazards for workers in the United States in part through the creation of required safety standards in the workplace. Today, many employers are required to adopt either OSHA’s safety standards or state-created standards that are approved and monitored by OSHA. Ideally, employers diligently comply with these standards voluntarily. However, OSHA recognizes that at times it is necessary for employees to report noncompliance and potential hazards in their workplace. In order to better educate employees on protecting their rights, OSHA created the handbook “Employee Workplace Rights”. While OSHA provides many regulations which protect worker safety, this handbook highlights two of the most vital rights an employee has — the right to information and the right to promote safety.
The front-line of defense in protecting a worker’s safety is education. Therefore, extra emphasis is placed on an employee’s right to information. For example, employers subject to OSHA regulations are required to educate their employees on mandated standards through such activities as displaying a safety rights and responsibilities poster, providing copies detailing these standards when requested, and listing hazardous workplace materials and safety data sheets where applicable. If an employer seeks a variance on OSHA safety standards, employees must be informed of the application as well as their right to request a hearing on the matter. Where safety monitoring is conducted, OSHA regulations also dictate transparency of records and results for employees. For instance, an employer who obtains an employee’s medical or exposure records must both inform the employee as well as make those relevant records available upon request. When monitoring and testing of harmful substances is conducted, as dictated by the OSH Act, employees have the right to observe the testing as well as see the results. If testing reveals a failure to meet OSHA standards, an employer should inform employees of the steps that will be taken to reduce exposure. In some cases, workers also may request access to an employer’s records of work-related injuries or illnesses.
Also addressed in the handbook is the importance of employees promoting safety in the workplace by reporting any concerns or violations of safety standards. Luckily, OSHA helps to protect the rights of an employee to file a complaint against or seek an inspection of their employer. For instance, the OSH Act prevents employers from retaliating against “whistleblower” employees for “complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards,” or for participating in OSHA activities related to safety evaluations. Anyone seeking OSHA assistance can always, however, ask that their identity remain confidential or file a complaint anonymously. Additionally, employees or their representative may join an OSHA compliance officer when he or she is conducting an inspection and/or may ask to speak privately with the officer. Also, employees have the right to request a written summary of a compliance officer’s findings. And any worker who objects to OSHA’s findings or the time-frame in which compliance is mandated may challenge the findings and/or request further information.
Today, workers are better able to ensure a safer working environment. While the OSH Act and OSHA provide regulation and oversight, one of its most important roles is educating workers on the vital role they or their representatives have in being advocates for safety. If you suspect you have been injured or made ill as a result of your workplace, contact OSHA and a Illinois personal injury attorney who can help protect your rights.
About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyer that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.