According to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 5,200 people in the U.S. die each year due to accidents in the workplace. An additional 4.3 million American workers suffer serious workplace injuries each year.
No matter the job and no matter the workplace, be it an office, warehouse or construction site, every worker has a right to be safe in his or her place of work. When workers discover a condition that makes it unsafe for them to do their jobs, they should remember that they do have rights.
As a first step, when a worker discovers a condition that is unsafe or possibly damaging to his health, he should alert his employer. In some cases, bringing unsafe working conditions to the attention of an employer is enough to get a response.
Unfortunately, not all employers are quick to react to workers' concerns about safety. If an employer does not remedy a safety problem, workers should consider filing a complaint with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, workers have the right to request an inspection of their workplace for safety violations. Workers may even file their complaints anonymously.
In some situations, a danger may be so serious that workers cannot wait for the complaint process to take its course. Although workers are generally not allowed to refuse to work due to dangerous conditions, federal law does offer protection for those who walk away from a job because of a good faith belief that they are being exposed to an imminent danger. A worker's refusal to perform a certain task may be protected when:
- He has told his employer about the problem and the employer has not fixed it
- His refusal to work is done in good faith, meaning it is genuinely due to his belief that conditions are dangerous
- A reasonable person under similar circumstances would agree that conditions are dangerous
- Due to the nature of the problem, there is not enough time to file a complaint and wait for regulators to assess conditions
Each of these conditions must be met before a worker refuses to perform an unsafe task. Otherwise, a worker may not be protected by OSHA if he refuses to work.
For more information about your rights as a worker and what to do if your workplace is unsafe, contact an experienced employee rights attorney.