Occupational Safety and Health
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with ensuring the safety and health of U.S. workers, in the workplace and elsewhere on the job.
OSHA enforces safety and health standards primarily under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act or OSHA), the main Federal law that grants U.S. workers the right to work in a safe and healthy workplace.
Private-sector and Federal postal workers are protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Many private-sector workers are also protected by OSHA-approved state-equivalent agencies.
State and municipal public-sector workers are protected by state OSHA equivalents. Federal workers other than postal employees are protected by the government agencies for which they work. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is the OSHA equivalent for miners, while the Office of Maritime is division of OSHA established specifically for maritime workers.
Should an employer under OSHA's jurisdiction allegedly violate a safety and health standard, OSHA has the power to conduct a workplace inspection.
If OSHA determines that the employer has violated a safety and health standard, OSHA also has the power to require the employer to correct the unsafe or unhealthy condition. OSHA might also levy punitive fines against the employer.
OSHA-protected workers who reasonably believe that their employers are violating safety and health standards, may file complaints directly with OSHA under the OSH Act or one of the other laws enforced by OHSA.
Workers may ask OSHA not to reveal their names to their employers. Even so, employers may not rightfully retaliate against workers who "blow the whistle" to OSHA or for:
- Requesting or participating in OSHA inspections
- Participating or testifying in related proceedings
- Refusing to work when death or serious injury is an imminent danger, if all conditions that grant this worker right are met
Such retaliation is form of illegal discrimination under the OSH Act and other laws enforced by OSHA. A worker who reasonably believes that his or her employer has discriminated against him or her for engaging in a protected activity, may seek relief through the nearest OSHA office or an attorney. It's a good idea for such a worker to do so right away, because a 30-day statute of limitations applies in most cases.
If OSHA fails to take appropriate action in a reported situation of imminent danger and a worker suffers injury because of it, then the worker may seek relief in a court of law. Consult an attorney about that.
As indicated above, to file complaints, workers need only to reasonably believe that their employers are violating safety and health standards; workers don't need to know for sure, as that's OSHA's responsibility. (But it's not a good idea to file frivolous complaints.) The same goes for workers to have the right to whistleblower and other retaliation protections.
As also indicated above, states are allowed to establish their own safety and health standards with OSHA approval. If an OSHA-approved state safety and health standard comes into play, OSHA will forward a worker's complaint to the enforcing state agency. However, workers have the right to file complaints with both OSHA and an OSHA-approved state agency, or either.
For more information about employers' safety and health responsibilities and related workers' rights, browse OSHA's informative site. For information about insurance benefits for an occupational injury, illness or death, refer to Workers' Compensation.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards require employers to pay for necessary employee personal protective equipment (PPE) with few exceptions.