Regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are vital to creating a safe environment for workers and the public. When employers violate these requirements, those decisions can put employees and others at risk.
Thankfully, reporting these violations can hold businesses responsible for dangerous conditions. What should you know about reporting OSHA violations and protecting your career in the process?
What violations might an OSHA complaint involve?
OSHA covers only private employers. Public employers are covered by separate state laws. Generally, OSHA requires all private employers to keep their employees safe from hazards that could pose a risk of death or serious bodily harm. So long as you have a good-faith belief that such a hazard exists, you can file a complaint.
While most people are familiar with workplace safety concerns like issues with personal protective equipment, OSHA complaints may also involve many other hazards. Generally, OSHA’s regulations are organized by type-of-hazard and industry. For example, you may also file a complaint with OSHA regarding issues like violations of environmental law, improper handling of asbestos, food safety; some forms of fraud or financial malfeasance; and safety issues in rail, air and other forms of transportation, such as Department of Transportation (“DOT”) regulations governing commercial vehicles and truckers.
What is the process of filing an OSHA complaint?
OSHA allows people to file complaints by fax, by mail, by phone or online. In addition to details about the violation, this complaint will usually include additional information so that OSHA can follow up with the person blowing the whistle about this hazard. After receiving a complaint, OSHA will conduct an investigation which may include an on-site inspection.
It is crucial for an employee or their representative to file a complaint as soon as possible because OSHA can only issue a citation for hazards that occurred within the last six months.
While OSHA allows you to file complaints anonymously, you may also want to make your employer’s HR Department aware of your concerns, in writing. That way, if you are later subjected to unlawful retaliation, your employer cannot claim to have been unaware of your concerns, or that it was you who filed the OSHA complaint. Proving such knowledge is a necessary element of any retaliation claim. OSHA Retaliation Claims must be filed within thirty (30) days of the retaliatory action.
Do you need guidance from an attorney to file an OSHA complaint?
Many people tolerate unsafe working conditions because they worry they might lose their job. While reporting a hazard to OSHA is a protected action, your employer may still take action against you after you file a complaint. Because of this, you should explore your legal options before filing a complaint.
Thankfully, you do not necessarily have to report a hazard alone. While you do not have to seek out an attorney during this process, they can offer insights and help you make informed decisions during this process. Not only can an attorney guide you through the complaint process, but they can also identify steps that you can take to protect your career.