Questions You Should Be Asking
One day while working, you notice a tank of propane near each welding station in your workplace. Employees are using torches to cut metal with the propane tanks only feet away. You probably thought the obvious: This can’t be safe! As a new employee, however, you question your authority to report what you saw. Other questions come to mind, such as, Will I be ridiculed for pointing this hazard out to my employer? Or, Am I wrong to think that this is dangerous?
But these aren’t the questions you should be asking. As an employee, when you see a potential hazard in the workplace you should instead be asking the following:
- Does this hazard pose an immediate threat to my coworkers and my own safety?
- When should I report this hazard?
- How can I report this hazard?
These questions address the fact that something is hazardous and call for action that will inevitably protect your fellow employees and save lives. Any fear you may have of employer retaliation or ridicule can be put aside, because reporting hazards to OSHA can be done in complete anonymity.
Filing a Safety or Health Complaint to OSHA
If you do not feel comfortable reporting a hazard to your employer directly, you can file a complaint with OSHA. This can be as easy as visiting the OSHA website and submitting it online or by other means such as mail, email, fax, over the phone, or even in person. You have the option to make your complaint anonymous so that your employer does not know who filed the complaint.
As well as filing a complaint, you can:
- Request an OSHA inspection of your workplace
- During an inspection, speak privately with an OSHA inspector and express any concerns you have
- Ask for information on the results and actions OSHA took based on a complaint you filed previously
- Ask for a review on a complaint you have already filed if you feel there is need for further investigation
When an OSHA Inspection Is Needed
Your employer is responsible for adhering to OSHA regulations and for protecting their employees, as dictated by the General Duty Clause. Sometimes your employer may fail to resolve certain hazards even after you have pointed them out. In such cases, OSHA should come to perform an inspection.
Inspections usually occur regularly as well as spontaneously. There should be an OSHA inspection of the workplace at least once a year.
What Goes on During an OSHA Inspection
OSHA inspections are completely spontaneous and are never planned in advance. That way, employers are motivated to maintain OSHA standards at all times. During the inspection itself, an OSHA inspector will arrive and inspect the workplace for potential hazards and violations of OSHA standards. The employer will usually accompany the OSHA inspector. Employees also have the right to follow along with the inspector and be educated on the regulations that apply to their workplace.
Why You Can Feel Safe For Reporting Hazards
OSHA gives you the right, under federal law, to work in a safe environment. When you file a complaint to OSHA, you are also entitled to remain anonymous. Your name will not be associated with the complaint when it comes to the attention of your employer.
You can speak up about hazards in the workplace without fear of retaliation from your employer. It is illegal for an employer to do any of the following due to the allegation:
- Terminate or demote you
- Reduce pay or benefits
- Reduce your work hours
- Change your job duties or location
- Deny you a promotion or raise
How to Assess Hazards In Your Workplace
Knowing specifically what to look out for as a potential hazard is vital so you can determine whether to request an inspection. In order to assess these hazards, you will need to understand them fully.
Your employers should provide information about all of the hazards that are present in your workplace. Company hazard mitigation and control measures are your best guidelines for knowing when you may need to report a concern. Reading up on incident reports within your workplace is another method of educating yourself on potential hazards.
While supervisors are primarily responsible for performing risk assessments, you shouldn’t discount the importance of your own intuition. Even your own basic awareness of hazards in the workplace can help you identify potential problems. You can ask yourself the right questions, such as those discussed earlier in this article. Don’t discount your experiences and thoughts on whether the hazard controls in your workplace are safe! These will guide you towards proper assessments and help you decide if you should file a report.
The Science Behind Workplace Safety
The ideal safety culture in any workplace involves an employer who encourages and listens to employee concerns about workplace hazards. In this case, the employer has created a workplace culture based on safety first and addresses hazards immediately. Prior to any inspections, employers and employees would be able to breathe easy knowing that they’re complying with OSHA regulations and protecting everyone’s safety.
OSHA has prepared a system to enforce regulations and deal with companies that fail to do so. As an employee, however, you should always try to talk privately with your employer about safety concerns you have before taking it to OSHA anonymously.
Filing a complaint and requesting an inspection should be your last resort for resolving workplace hazards. However, OSHA has provided it for employees as a measure to promote workplace safety and enforce regulations when companies ignore them.