Safe Work Environment Law – The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970, requires employers to provide a safe work environment for their employees. The Act is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which takes employee complaints about hazardous workplaces and conducts on-site inspections.
The Act gives employees the right to notify their employers or OSHA about an unsafe workplace and to request an on-site inspection.
The Act also imposes certain requirements on employers, including industry-specific standards. However, the Act contains a catch-all provision called the “General Duty Clause.” An employer violates the General Duty Clause if a workplace condition presented a hazard that was recognized by the employer or its industry, the hazard was likely to cause death or serious injury, and the employer could have feasibly eliminated or significantly minimized the hazard.
Federal law entitles you to a safe workplace. Your employer must keep your workplace free of known health and safety hazards. You have the right to speak up about hazards without fear of retaliation. You also have the right to:
- Receive workplace safety and health training in a language you understand
- Work on machines that are safe
- Receive required safety equipment, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls
- Be protected from toxic chemicals
- Request an OSHA inspection, and speak to the inspector
- Report an injury or illness, and get copies of your medical records
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses
- See results of tests taken to find workplace hazards
Safe Work Environment Law
Right to a Safe and Healthful Workplace – Employers’ “General Duty”
Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards. This is commonly known as the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act.
OSHA Standards: Protection on the Job
OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. There are four groups of OSHA standards: General Industry, Construction, Maritime, and Agriculture. (General Industry is the set that applies to the largest number of workers and worksites).
These standards are designed to protect workers from a wide range of hazards. These standards also limit the amount of hazardous chemicals, substances, or noise that workers can be exposed to; require the use of certain safe work practices and equipment; and require employers to monitor certain hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Examples of OSHA standards include requirements to:
- Provide fall protection, such as a safety harness and lifeline;
- Prevent trenching cave-ins;
- Ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces such as manholes or grain bins;
- Prevent exposure to high levels of noise that can damage hearing;
- Put guards on machines;
- Prevent exposure to harmful levels of substances like asbestos and lead;
- Provide workers with respirators and other needed safety equipment (in almost all cases, free of charge);
- Provide healthcare workers with needles and sharp instruments that have built-in safety features to prevent skin punctures or cuts that could cause exposure to infectious diseases; and
- Train workers using a language and vocabulary they understand about hazards and how to protect themselves.
Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act. This clause requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards and is generally cited when no specific OSHA standard applies to the hazard.