Most people could never imagine suffering an injury or, even worse, losing their lives just by going to work to make money to support their family. But that is, in fact, what has happened to many American workers. In a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study, researchers revealed there were some 5,190 fatal work-related injuries in the U.S. in 2021, an 8.9% increase compared to the 4,764 reported in 2020. In 2022, there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses, which resulted in 77.6 million lost workdays, up 7.5% compared to 2021. These unsettling statistics underscore the importance of employee safety and employee rights in the workplace.
What Everyone Should Know About OSHA
The health and well-being of an employee can be at risk if an employer doesn’t take reasonable steps to create a safe work environment for them. And that’s true whether that employee works a blue-collar or white-collar job. That stated, now is an opportune time to discuss Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worker rights and protections. For those unfamiliar with OSHA, it is a federal U.S. agency established in 1970 that ensures employers provide employees with safe working conditions. However, because the focus is on promoting and ensuring workplace safety, OSHA rules do not extend to independent contractors, freelancers, or anyone who works for themselves. Although work-related injuries and deaths still happen with OSHA in place, the numbers would be much higher if the agency wasn’t around.
Employee Rights When It Comes to Safety in the Workplace
Thanks to OSHA laws, employees can voice their concerns about hazards without fear of retaliation, including being threatened with termination. They can do so by notifying their employer, speaking with a representative at their local OSHA office, or filling out an OSHA complaint form online. Along with the right to inform their employer or OSHA of workplace hazards without fear of retaliation, employees working public or private-sector jobs have the following OSHA-protected rights:
- The right not to be exposed to toxic chemicals
- The right to be provided with safety equipment if needed
- The right to receive workplace safety and health training in a language they can understand
- The right to refuse to work in hazardous work situations
- The right to report an injury or illness and receive copies of your medical records
- The right to review any documents having to do with work-related injuries and illnesses
- The right to see results of tests taken to identify workplace hazards
- The right to only work on machines that have been proven safe
When Should Employees File a Workplace Safety Complaint?
Employees should immediately speak with their employer if they have concerns about workplace hazards. Most employers would much rather resolve workplace issues themselves and not have OSHA get involved. And that’s because OSHA often fines employers if they are found guilty of wrongdoing. If the employer does not or is unwilling to resolve hazards in the workplace, employees should file a confidential complaint with OSHA and request an inspection.
What Should Employees Do if Their Employer Threatens Retaliation After They File a Complaint With OSHA?
If an employer demotes or terminates an employee due to them filing a complaint with OSHA, they have broken OSHA labor laws. From the time when they were fired or demoted, individuals have 30 days to file a whistleblower complaint with OSHA. Along with possible criminal prosecution, an employer found guilty of retaliating after an employee files a complaint is subject to numerous penalties, some of which include the following:
- Back pay
- Compensatory damages
- Punitive damages
- Reimbursement for lost benefits
In summary, going to work to support ourselves and our families is necessary. However, we shouldn’t have to put ourselves in har m’s way to do so. With that in mind, if you believe your work environment is unsafe, don’t hesitate to notify your employer and, if necessary, OSHA immediately.
What Should Employees do if They are Injured on the Job?
If you suffer a work place injury, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible even if your injuries do not seem serious. You should also document your injuries and notify your supervisor. Continue to document any medical treatment and communications with your employer. You may be eligible for worker’s compensation which could include reimbursement for medical bills and lost wages. An attorney can help you understand your rights, file a claim and secure the best possible outcomes.