Federal Occupational Safety Protection
By Chris Kramer
Americans are protected against serious injuries in the workplace by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970.
The OSH Act is the primary federal law that governs occupational health and safety both in the private sector and in state and federal government workplaces. The OSH Act was enacted to ensure that all employees are provided with a work environment without recognized safety hazards.
Under the OSH Act, work environments are required to be free of mechanical dangers and unsanitary conditions and workers are to be protected from exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes, excessive noise levels and extreme heat or cold.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the agency of the United States Department of Labor that creates and enforces workplace safety standards to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.
OSHA has authority over the workplace safety of all non-governmental workplaces with employees. Although the OSH Act also applies to state and federal government employees, OSHA does not oversee government workplaces with the exception of the U.S. Postal Service.
When a workplace is in violation of OSHA standards, the agency may impose fines and criminal penalties. OSHA may pursue criminal penalties in cases in which the death of a worker was caused by the willful disregard of OSHA standards for health and safety in the workplace. In some cases, OSHA and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work together to ensure workplace safety for employees.
Rights for Workers under the OSH Act
The OSH Act provides workers with the right to refuse work if the workplace poses an imminent threat to their life.
Additionally, workers are entitled to receive training from their employer on the health and safety standards that the employer is required to follow, training on any dangerous chemicals that the worker is exposed to and information on how to remain protected and training on any other health and safety hazards (such as construction hazards or bloodborne pathogens) that might exist in the workplace.
Workers may also request that the employer provide them with information about OSH Act standards, worker injuries and illnesses, job hazards, and workers' rights and ask the employer to fix any workplace hazards or resolve OSH Act violations at the workplace.
If an employer is non-compliant with OSHA standards, workers may file a complaint with OSHA and request that the workplace be inspected. If the employer takes any retaliatory action against an employee for filing a complaint with OSHA, another complaint outlining the employer's actions may be filed with OSHA.
If a worker feels unsafe about some aspect of the work environment, yet it is not covered under OSHA regulations, a request for the federal government to research possible workplace hazards may be filed.
OSHA and Workers' Compensation
When a worker is injured on the job, OSH Act violations may be reported to OSHA; however, OSH Act violations do not automatically entitle workers to file personal injury lawsuits against their employers.
Most employers are required to carry Workers' Compensation insurance to cover accidents, illnesses and accidental deaths that occur on-the-job.
Generally speaking, Workers' Compensation insurance covers workers who become sick, injured or are killed on the job regardless of fault and is the sole remedy for workplace related illnesses and accidents.
Workers who have suffered injuries or illness due to their employment should contact a Workers' Compensation lawyer to discuss how to best handle a Workers' Compensation claim.
Steps to Take After a Workplace Hazard Injury
If a workplace hazard poses a threat that could harm others, an injured worker should call OHSA's emergency line at 1-800-321-OSHA after seeking medical treatment. After receiving medical treatment and reporting the workplace danger to OSHA, a Workers' Compensation First Report of Injury should be filed without delay and the employer should be notified of the on-the-job injury or illness.
A Workers' Compensation lawyer can advise an injured worker as to how to proceed with the Workers' Compensation claim and/or a personal injury case after the initial Workers' Compensation claim is filed.
The above summary is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. For more information on these laws and for legal advice, please contact a local personal injury lawyer.