How Do I Address Unsafe Work Conditions?April 14, 2021
All employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment that is free of hazards that can jeopardize the health and safety of the employees. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), if the work conditions are unsafe, employees have the right to report the hazard without fear of retaliation. Unfortunately, some employers prioritize cutting costs and making money over protecting its employees and maintaining a safe work environment. Oftentimes, when an employee identifies a hazardous condition in the workplace, they may not know what steps to take to report it, or the worker may be concerned that there will be negative consequences if they report the issue. There are protocols in place that can help employees identify and report hazards in the workplace. If a safety hazard in the workplace caused an employee to suffer a serious injury, they are urged to contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer who can assist them with the claims process.
How Do I Approach My Employer About a Safety Hazard?
Although employers are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment, workers also have a responsibility to report a safety issue, particularly if it puts other workers in immediate danger or could result in a serious health hazard. In most cases, when a workplace hazard poses an obvious safety threat, workers know to report the issue immediately. However, when a worker detects a safety issue but it is not immediately life-threatening, he or she may hesitate to report it or may be unsure about how to proceed if there are no protocols in place. The following suggestions can help workers take the necessary steps if a workplace hazard has been detected:
- Follow the chain of command. When it comes to reporting a safety issue at work, the first person that should be notified is the employer’s immediate supervisor. Even if the company has a safety director on the payroll, it is important that the appropriate chain of command be followed. This gives the supervisor the opportunity to fix the problem. However, if the supervisor’s response is unsatisfactory or he or she fails to address the issue, the employer may seek help elsewhere. For example, the worker may report the issue to the safety director, or the shop steward if the employees are part of a union.
- Enlist the help of a trustworthy ally. Not all companies have safety managers or shop stewards. If this is the case and an employee wishes to report a safety concern, they should consider whether there is someone in the company that is in a position of power and who is a strong proponent of safety. Ideally, the employee can discreetly discuss the safety issue with that person, and he or she will ensure that the issue is addressed and fixed without involving the worker who reported the problem.
- Present a solution to the problem. When reporting a safety issue in the workplace, the employee should consider presenting possible solutions to the problem when discussing it with a supervisor. The worker may even have a better, more effective solution if he or she is directly exposed to the safety issue every day and understands firsthand how it impacts employees. By approaching the supervisor with a viable solution, the employee will be taken more seriously and there is a greater chance that the problem will be resolved.
- Be cooperative when discussing the safety issue. When bringing a serious safety issue to the attention of a supervisor, the employee should provide a detailed explanation of the problem and explain that they would not be bringing the issue to the supervisor’s attention if it did not pose a serious safety hazard to other workers. However, the employee should do so in a way that is cooperative, respectful, and even-tempered. The employee should avoid discussing it in a way that sounds accusatory. The worker should offer possible solutions that could correct the problem quickly and efficiently.
- Research the issue. Before a worker complains to their boss about a safety issue, they should make sure that they have the facts straight. For example, before complaining that the height of a railing is too low, the worker should find data in writing that supports their claim and present it to the employer. There is a wide range of safety information available online that employees can access and present to employers when discussing a safety concern. If the worker knows a safety professional in the field, they can ask that person to review the data to confirm that it is accurate and up-to-date.
- Know that workers are protected against retaliation. Some workers may avoid reporting a safety issue because they do not want to lose their job or face ridicule from employers or coworkers. However, every employee has a right to work in an environment that is safe and free of hazards that can cause injuries or work-related illnesses. Workers also have the right to report a safety hazard without the fear of retaliation from their employer. The worker cannot be fired, demoted, transferred to a less desirable position, forced to work in uncomfortable positions, or receive a pay cut because they brought up safety concerns. In fact, OSHA imposes steep fines for this type of retaliation, and the employee must be given full back pay and a full reinstatement of their job.
How Do I Report a Workplace Safety Hazard?
Safety concerns in the workplace should not be taken lightly, particularly if the issue could cause serious injuries or other health hazards. Therefore, if a worker believes there is a serious safety issue that could make the work environment dangerous, he or she is urged to take the following steps:
- Report the hazard. Although this step is not required, it is recommended because it is the quickest way to address the workplace hazard. However, not all employers take the necessary steps to address and fix the problem, in which case it may be necessary to submit a complaint with OSHA.
- File a complaint with OSHA. This can be done in a number of ways, including by mail, online, or by calling the regional office.
- Describe the hazard. The official complaint should include a detailed description of the hazard that is being reported. The individual who reported the issue will likely have the opportunity to have a private discussion with the OSHA inspector, so that is a good opportunity to provide as much detailed information about the hazard as possible, including whether the employer took steps to rectify the problem.
- Participate in a closing conference. After the inspection, the OSHA inspector will discuss his or her findings with the employer and identify whether there are any violations that need to be addressed. The employee who reported the safety issue may obtain a copy of the report and discuss the findings with the inspector.
What are Common Examples of Unsafe Work Conditions?
There are a wide range of safety issues that can jeopardize the health and safety of workers. The following are examples of unsafe work conditions:
- Inadequate or malfunctioning warning systems, or a lack of effective warning systems
- Debris, water, or other slippery substances on the floor that can create a slip and fall hazard
- Safety exits that are blocked
- Failure to properly maintain or repair equipment
- Missing safety guards
- Presence of hazardous or toxic chemicals, such as asbestos, which can increase the risk of serious occupational illnesses
The following are examples of illegal work conditions that are particularly dangerous:
- Failure to provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) such as harnesses, safety glasses, or fire-safe clothing
- Failure to provide the necessary training for employees who work in confined spaces
- Failure to ensure that all machinery, tools, or moving parts have the appropriate guards
- Electrical hazards caused by faulty wiring or poor maintenance
What Happens if I Suffered a Workplace Injury Because of Unsafe Conditions?
If a worker has been injured on the job, they are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. If the injury or occupational illness was caused by hazardous work conditions, a skilled and experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer will ensure that the worker’s legal rights are protected and that they receive the financial compensation they deserve, including medical expenses, lost wages, disability benefits, and funeral expenses if the injury causes a fatality.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Injured Workers
If you or someone you know was injured or became ill because of a hazardous work environment, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will assist you with the claims process, address all your questions and concerns, and ensure that your legal rights are protected at all times. Our dedicated legal team will secure the maximum financial benefits you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.