Although most workers return home safely from work each day, at some point in your career you may encounter a workplace condition that seems unhealthy or even dangerous. Work hazards are not limited to high-risk industries, but instead can occur in even the most tranquil of work settings. With women accounting for 375 worker deaths in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, protect yourself by recognizing unhealthy work conditions and keeping yourself safe while on the job.
Worker Rights Under OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states that workers are entitled to working conditions that "do not pose a risk of serious harm." It requires employers to provide a workplace that promotes health and safety for its employees. OSHA oversees extensive standards for safe practices across all industries. OSHA provides additional protection to workers by performing workplace inspections, preventing retaliation against workers that submit OSHA complaints, requiring companies to provide OSHA training, obtaining information regarding workplace injuries and test or inspection results and requiring employers to maintain employee health records.
Reportable Conditions As Defined by OSHA
Although OSHA has imposed specific health and safety standards for industries that are considered high risk, there is no way to define every possible hazard or unhealthy condition that workers should report. As a general rule, workers have the right to complain about any safety or health violation that has potential to cause harm or physical injury. Complaints are not limited to the health and safety standards specifically mentioned by OSHA -- complaints about any health or safety concerns may be brought forward.
Examples of Reportable Conditions
While you should always use your best judgment as to what is an unhealthy condition, some examples of reportable conditions include presence of a chemical that is causing physical symptoms, improper ventilation causing illnesses in office, improper handling of bio-hazard material such as syringes or surgical instruments, high machine noise volume with no protective ear plugs provided, or open holes in floors.
How to Report Unhealthy Conditions
When you encounter an unhealthy workplace condition, your first step should always be to report it to your supervisor or safety officer according to your company's policy. Many hazards can be corrected by the employer without intervention from OSHA. If your employer does not respond, you should file an official OSHA complaint. If the workplace condition poses "imminent danger" and your employer has not corrected the hazard, you should report it to your local OSHA office immediately. You may have the right to refuse to perform a task if your employer has not corrected a hazard and you believe that serious harm or death will result from performing the task. By being alert and assertive at work, you can help protect yourself and others!
Based in Los Angeles, Amber Collins has been working in private-sector Human Resources for 10 years. Collins has been certified as a Professional in human resources by the Human Resources Certification Institute since 2007. She holds a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in human resources management from California State University, Dominguez Hills.