For hundreds of years, many Americans paid for their country’s expanding economic power with their lives. As the nation’s economy rapidly grew during the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, American workers did their work in alarming, inhumane conditions. By 1970, the death rate for American workers was high enough to warrant Congress's attention. The resulting Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed that same year to reduce the rate at which Americans were being injured or killed at work.
Why OSHA Is Important
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is a government agency designed to ensure "safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” The organization continues to protect the rights of workers to this day.
Nearly 50 years after its creation, one thing is clear: OSHA has saved lives. Daily worker deaths have gone down from 38 per day in 1970 to 14 as of 2016. In other words, the agency has had a significant impact on the safety of workers since it was created. While it’s safer than ever to be a worker in the United States, OSHA is still working toward completely eliminating worker deaths and injuries in the nation.
How Many OSHA Inspectors Are There?
Despite making progress with safety in the American workplace, OSHA is still struggling to eliminate all preventable deaths and injuries in the nation. This is because OSHA is a small agency. Many people are surprised to find out that OSHA only has about 2,100 inspectors.
While effective, OSHA faces the challenge of using this limited number of inspectors to protect over 130 million workers at more than 8 million worksites around the nation. With one OSHA officer per 59,000 workers, it’s impossible for the agency to eliminate worker death and injuries unless employers make safety their priority.
While many employers do this, many don’t. This makes knowing your rights as a worker important.
Who OSHA Covers
OSHA provides protection to any worker in the United States. One of the first steps to protecting your right to safety as an American worker is educating yourself about the rights that OSHA provides to employees. These rights are meant to help workers before and after accidents.
By educating workers on the rights and protections they are guaranteed by OSHA, it is possible to create a stronger culture of responsibility among American employers. With only a few thousand OSHA inspectors responsible for the safety of workers at countless job sites across the nation, workers who know their rights will be able to reach out to OSHA before an accident happens.
Your rights as understood by OSHA include:
- Right to Proper Training: Employers must provide their employees with proper safety training for job-specific hazards. Failure to do this will make the employer liable for any injury or death caused by inadequate training.
- Right to Information: Employees are entitled to information from their employer regarding the job site's hazards. When a worker requests safety information, employers must provide them with information regarding hazardous chemicals, machinery, and other dangers. Additionally, employers must provide an employee's medical records to them upon request.
- Right to Request Action: Workers have the right to notify their employer of safety risks present in their workplace with the expectation of a speedy solution.
- The Right to Contact OSHA: If a worker feels that their request for action is ignored by an employer, they have the right to contact OSHA for assistance. Workers are entitled to be involved with OSHA’s investigation.
- The Right to OSHA Inspection Results: After their workplace is inspected, workers have the right to review the results of the inspection. Additionally, workers can appeal if they feel the results of the inspection are not accurate or correct.
- The Right to Fight Discrimination: If an employee feels that they are being retaliated against after contacting OSHA, they can file a discrimination complaint. Additionally, employees have the right to refuse to work in conditions that they feel are unsafe—employers cannot legally punish an employee over their safety concerns.
The above are broad summaries of the rights that workers enjoy under the authority of OSHA. The complete set of rights may be read on OSHA’s website.
Are OSHA Regulations Law?
OSHA has regulations that cover all types of jobs, including construction, maritime, agriculture, and other general industries. While OSHA's rules are not specifically laws that were voted on and passed by lawmakers, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires all companies to follow OSHA guidelines. In other words, OSHA regulations have legal authority because the agency that created them has the legal power to enforce them.
Can OSHA Shut Down a Business?
While OSHA can shut down a worksite such as a construction location or factory if it finds unsafe conditions at one, it doesn’t have the authority to shut down a business’s operations. Instead, the agency needs to obtain a court order to shut down a business.
Can OSHA Fine Employees?
No, OSHA doesn’t fine employees. The agency is focused on making sure employers enforce safety at their workplaces. This makes it an employer's responsibility to prevent workers from being unsafe. As a result, employers are fined for unsafe workers because they’ve failed to hire, train, and maintain safe employees.
Are OSHA Complaints Anonymous?
Yes, a worker can file an anonymous complaint with OSHA. However, failing to identify yourself on a complaint might make it more likely that OSHA will perform an onsite inspection.
To encourage workers to report problems, OSHA provides whistleblower protections that ban employers from retaliating in response to an OSHA complaint.
To file a whistleblower complaint, an employee must allege that:
- The employee engaged in activity shielded by the whistleblower protection law (such as reporting a safety violation).
- The employer knew about, or suspected, that the employee engaged in the protected activity.
- The employer took adverse action against the employee.
- The employee's protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action.
If you have been injured in an industrial accident caused by a neglectful employer, call the work injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today.