Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), workers have the right to a safe workplace. The OSH Act was passed to prevent workers from being killed or otherwise harmed at work. The law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The OSH Act is located in the United States Code at 29 U.S.C. §651, and the applicable regulations are located in the Code of Federal Regulations at 29 C.F.R. §1910.
The OSH Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA also provides information, training, and assistance to employers and workers.
The OSH Act gives workers the right to safe and healthful working conditions. It is the duty of employers to provide workplaces that are free of unknown dangers that could harm their employees. This law also gives workers important rights to participate in activities to ensure their protection from job hazards.
Workers generally have the right to:
• File a confidential complaint with OSHA to have their workplace inspected.
• Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be done in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand.
• Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace.
• Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in the workplace.
• Get copies of their workplace medical records.
• Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.
• File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated against by their employer as a result of requesting an inspection or exercising any of their other rights under the OSH Act.
• File a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a "whistleblower" under the additional 21 statutes for which OSHA has jurisdiction.
Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Employers must provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards, and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. OSHA further requires that employers attempt to eliminate or reduce hazards by first making feasible changes in working conditions and not rely solely on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs. For example, employers may switch to safer chemicals, enclose processes to trap harmful fumes, or use ventilation systems to clean the air.
Employers must also:
• Prominently display the official OSHA poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act. This poster is free and can be downloaded from www.osha.gov.
• Inform workers about hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets, and other methods.
• Train workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
• Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
• Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling and other tests required by OSHA standards.
• Provide hearing exams or other medical tests required by OSHA standards.
• Post OSHA citations and injury and illness data where workers can see them.
• Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality, or within 24 hours of any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.
• Not retaliate against workers for using their rights under the law, including their right to report a work-related injury or illness.
Who Does OSHA Cover?
Private Sector Workers
Most employees in the nation come under OSHA's jurisdiction. OSHA covers most private sector employers and employees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions, either directly through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state plan. State-run health and safety plans must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program. To find the contact information for the OSHA Federal or State Program office nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or go to www.osha.gov.
State And Local Government Workers
Employees who work for state and local governments are not covered by Federal OSHA but have OSH Act protections if they work in those states that have an OSHA-approved plan.