Many workers are intimidated by OSHA publications; even though they can be detailed and exhaustive, most of what is written is about common sense and best practices. However, it is crucial for employers to be fully aware of and compliant with all guidelines. For instance, requiring workers to wear seatbelts when driving vehicles, or making sure that scaffolding is secure and that fall protection is used when employees are working on heights, or providing protective equipment for eyes, faces and skin when using abrasive materials or when welding, are fundamental safety practices. Other protective practices that make sense and are commonplace are:
- Cave-in protection for trenches
- Guards on tools with moving blades
- Protective barriers on machines with moving parts
- Kill switches on machinery
- Adequate ventilation in enclosed areas
Industrial jobs, however, are hazardous and it does happen that some employers are lax in risk management and accident protection.
HOW OSHA PROTECTS YOU
Your employer has a responsibility for your safety, and therefore has the right to take appropriate actions towards employees who violate safety rules they were instructed to follow. An employee, however, always has the right to report safety concerns and any violations of safety rules in the workplace to OSHA. An employer cannot retaliate against an employee who makes such a report, and if an employer does retaliate in any way towards a worker who reports a problem or who participates in an OSHA investigation, that employer can be taken to court by the Department of Labor.
If it is determined that a safety violation was not intentional, an employer can face civil penalties that increase as the violation is repeated or if it is serious. Intentional violations can bring both civil penalties and imprisonment.
If an employer has violated an OSHA directive, this does not mean that the company is negligent, and this cannot be assumed if a civil lawsuit arises from an injury to an employee on the job. Violations can be used to show evidence of negligence, however, so it is important that these violations be documented. On the other hand, an employer who can demonstrate compliance with OSHA is not necessarily able to dismiss liability in a civil lawsuit. In any case, workers’ compensation claims can be filed regardless of whether the employer was at fault.
WAYS TO REPORT A VIOLATION
Employees and their representatives can request an OSHA inspection of their work site and can file a complaint, even if they do not know if a specific OSHA standard has been breached. There are a few ways to report a suspected violation:
- Online – Fill out the complaint form on the OSHA website.
- Mail/Fax – Download the complaint form from the OSHA website, or get a form at your local OSHA Regional or Area Office.
- Phone – call your local OSHA Regional or Area Office. Staff will discuss your complaint and answer questions.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Dugas Law Firm is committed to ensuring that everyone’s legal rights are protected and that injured employees have someone in their corners fighting for them. If you are concerned about safety in your workplace and think that your employer is ignoring safety standards or is not willing to listen to employee safety concerns, call us and we will discuss your options and any possible legal action you may want to consider.