Employee Rights Under OSHA

It may not be part of the Constitution, but American workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace is the law of the land. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 established OSHA and gave employees the right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment.

OSHA has since spelled out specifics for workers, along with strict prohibitions against penalizing employees who exercise their rights to know, seek information, and call dangerous conditions to OSHA's attention.

Employers also must inform employees of their rights. They must post the OSHA 2203 Job Safety and Health Protection poster or a comparable state version to inform workers of their OSHA rights and responsibilities. Those rights include requesting a copy of any OSHA regulations that apply to their job and workplace.

Right to Complain
Another right is asking for an investigation if an employee believes there's a workplace violation of an OSHA regulation (29 CFR 1903.11). During the inspection, the employee or a designated representative may accompany the inspector. Also, any employee can answer the inspector's questions or call attention to other possible safety and health violations (29 CFR 1903.10).

If there's an OSHA citation or formal request for more time to make the changes needed to reach OSHA standards, employees have a right to review posted versions. A further right: to contest compliance modification requests to OSHA within 10 working days (29 CFR 1903.14a).

Right to Know
Employees' right to know (the Hazard Communication Standard) covers potential job hazards and protections, including label and material safety data sheet information and other required safety training (29 CFR 1910.1200). Rights to information and equipment needed to work safely are included in many OSHA regulations on specific tasks, equipment, and substances. Employees (and their agents) have the right to collectively bargain to obtain access to safety and health information not specifically available in OSHA laws.

Employees also have a right to know just how safe their workplace is. From at least February 1—March 1, employers must post a summary of the annual OSHA 200 log of job-related injuries and illnesses, even if none were recorded.

Right to Review Records
Employees or their designated representatives also have a right to review their exposure or medical records (29 CFR 1910.1020(e)(2)) when they're hired and yearly thereafter. They must know which records exist and where, who's in charge, and how to gain access to them.

Any current—or past—employee has the right to inspect and copy records that relate to the person's health on the job. That includes:

• Exposure records, such as monitoring results and interpretive information on the amount and nature of an employee's past, current or (for a new assignment) future exposure to a toxic substance or other harmful agent. An employee who hasn't been monitored has the right to see records of employees with similar exposure.

• Medical records, such as results of personal medical exams, lab tests, or analyses of their exposure or medical records. They have the right to see their own medical complaints, and records of medical diagnoses, opinions, treatments, and prescriptions.

Providing Access
Employers must respond to employee requests for these records within 15 working days or explain why (29 CFR 1910.1020(e)(1)). OSHA does, however, have safeguards to protect trade secrets and certain personal health information.
These are legal employee rights, not privileges. That's probably a good thing for employee and employer alike because, as you know, a well-informed employee is also well-prepared to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.

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