Is your workplace -- or the workplace of someone you know -- unsafe? Workers in danger of falling or being hit by falling objects? Working around dangerous chemicals without proper safety gear? Forced to take shortcuts that you know violate safety laws? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a branch of the United States Department of Labor that seeks to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. (see reference 1). If you suspect an employer of putting employees at risk of injury, illness, or death, you can report your concern to OSHA.
Things You'll Need
- Computer with Internet capabilities
Report an Employer or Make a Complaint
Get the OSHA complaint form online (see reference 2) to see what kind of information you'll need. If you are reporting an emergency, do not use the form. Instead contact OSHA immediately over the phone -- 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Any employee or union member can report a suspected violation. Also, you or your union can choose a representative to accompany the OSHA inspector during the inspection.
Gather your information. Know the required fields in the form, which are the establishment's name and address as well as a description of the hazard and the location. The inspector needs to know as much information as possible to determine whether an investigation is warranted. If the complaint is something that the employee believes to be unfair, but does not break any laws under the act, then there will not be an investigation, and the employee will receive written notification of this fact. If the inspector does suspect a violation, the inspector will launch an investigation, and the employer will receive notice before or by the time of the inspection. (See reference 3)
Give as much detail as possible on the complaint form. OSHA investigates hundreds of violation complaints -- everything from chemicals to carcinogens and mold to flu risks to industrial and construction safety. Get ideas of specific hazards from the extensive list of safety and health hazards that OSHA investigates (see Resource 1) Search by specific topic or industry.
Decide whether you would like your name to be revealed to the employer. You may remain anonymous or you may let your union be the public source of the complaint. But if you do allow your name to be revealed, you will have more protection against employer retaliation, because your employer cannot say they didn't know you complained. Federal law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who files a complaint. That means the employee can't get fewer hours, be fired, or treated unfairly in anyway. The Whistle Blower Protection Program extends to those who "report violations of various trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, consumer product and securities laws" as well. (See Resource 2) The employee only has 30 days to report the retaliation to the OSHA office, so don't delay if you feel discriminated against. You can call your closest regional office or send written complaints by certified mail or hand delivered to the OSHA office.
Be comfortable with the process taking a little time. OSHA gives priority to cases that have imminent danger and life/death situations first. That means that your case could take weeks or even months to get to, depending on the case load and types within your regional office. However, stand firm and be patient.
Tips & Warnings
- If you are hearing impaired and in need of a phone number with TTY capabilities, call 1-877-889-5627.
- According to the OSHA official website, anyone who is convicted of making false claims is subject to a "fine up to $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than 6 months."
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