OSHA: Employee Workplace Rights and Responsibilities
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (hereafter called the
Act) created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
within the Department of Labor and encouraged employers and employees
to reduce workplace hazards and to implement safety and health
In doing so, employees were given many rights and responsibilities.
They have the right to:
* review copies of appropriate standards, rules, regulations, and
requirements that the employer should have available at the
* request information from the employer on safety and health hazards
in the workplace, precautions that may be taken, and procedures to be
followed if an employee is involved in an accident or is exposed to
* have access to relevant employee exposure and medical records.
* request the OSHA area director to conduct an inspection if they
believe hazardous conditions or violations of standards exist in the
* have an authorized employee representative accompany the OSHA
compliance officer during the inspection tour.
* respond to questions from the OSHA compliance officer,
particularly if there is no authorized employee representative
accompanying the compliance officer on the inspection "walkaround."
* observe any monitoring or measuring of hazardous materials and see
the resulting records, as specified under the Act, and as required by
* have an authorized representative, or themselves, review the Log
and Summary of Occupational Injuries (OSHA No. 200) at a reasonable
time and in a reasonable manner.
* object to the abatement period set by OSHA for correcting any
violation in the citation issued to the employer by writing to the
OSHA area director within 15 working days from the date the employer
receives the citation.
o submit a written request to the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for information on whether any substance in the workplace has potentially toxic effects in the concentration being used, and have names withheld from the employer, if that is requested.
* be notified by the employer if the employer applies for a variance
from an OSHA standard, and testify at a variance hearing, and appeal
the final decision.
* have names withheld form employer, upon request to OSHA, if a
written and signed complaint is filed.
* be advised of OSHA actions regarding a complaint and request an
informal review of any decision not to inspect or to issue a
* file discrimination complaint under Section 11(c) of the Act if
punished for exercising the above rights or for refusing to work when
faced with an imminent danger of death or serious injury and there is
insufficient time or OSHA to inspect; or fine a Section 405 reprisal
complaint (under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act [STAA]).
Before OSHA issues, amends or deletes regulations, the agency
publishes them in the Federal Register so that interested persons or
groups may comment.
The employer has a legal obligation to inform employees of OSHA
safety and health standards which may apply to their workplace. Upon
request, the employer must make available copies of those standards
and the OSHA law itself. If more information is needed about
workplace hazards than the employer can supply, it can be obtained
from the nearest OSHA area office.
Under the Act, employers have a general duty to provide work and a
workplace free from recognized hazards. Citations may be issued by
OSHA when violations of standards are found, and for violations of
the general duty clause, even if no OSHA standard applies to the
The employer also must display in a prominent place the official OSHA
poster which describes rights and responsibilities under OSHA's law.
Although OSHA does not cite employees for violations of their
responsibilities, employees "shall comply with all occupational
safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders
issued under the Act" that apply to them. Employee responsibilities
and rights in states with their own occupational safety and health
programs are generally the same as for workers in Federal OSHA
An employee should:
* Read the OSHA poster at the jobsite.
* Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.
* Follow all employer safety and health rules and regulations, and
wear or use prescribed protective equipment while working.
* Report hazardous conditions to the supervisor.
* Report any job-related injury or illness to the employer, and seek
* Cooperate with the OSHA compliance officer conducting an
inspection if he or she inquires about safety and health conditions
in the workplace.
* Exercise right under the Act in a responsible manner.
Right to Know
Employers in manufacturing industries must establish a written,
comprehensive hazard communication program which includes provisions
for container labeling, material safety data sheets, and an employee
training program. The program must include a list of the hazardous
chemicals in each work area, the means the employer uses to inform
employees of the hazards of non-routine tasks (for example, the
cleaning of reactor vessels), hazards associated with chemicals in
unlabeled pipes, and the way the employer will inform contractors in
manufacturing facilities of the hazards to which their employees may
Access to Exposure and Medical Records
The existence, location, and availability of medical records and
records of employees' exposure to toxic substances and harmful
physical agents must be provided by the employer to affected
employees upon their first entering into employment and at least
annually thereafter. Whenever an employer plans to stop doing
business and there is no successor employer to receive and maintain
these records, the employer must notify employees of their right of
access to records at least three months before the employer ceases to
When OSHA standards require the employer to measure exposure to
harmful substances, the employee (or representative) has the right to
observe the testing and to examine the records of the results. If
the exposure levels are above the limit set by the standard, the
employer must tell employees what will be done to bring the exposure
OSHA encourages employers and employees to work together to remove
hazards. Employees should discuss safety and health problems with
the employer, other workers, and union representatives (if there is a
union). As a last resort, if a hazard cannot be corrected, an
employee should contact the nearest OSHA area office. If necessary,
the OSHA area director can order an inspection if the employee is
willing to submit a formal complaint.
Discrimination for Using Rights
Although there is nothing in the OSHA law which gives an employee the
right to refuse to perform an unsafe or unhealthful job assignment,
OSHA's regulations, which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court,
provide that an employee may refuse to work when faced with an
imminent danger of death or serious injury.
The conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very
stringent, however, and a work refusal should be an action taken only
as a last resort. If time permits, the unhealthful or unsafe
condition should be reported to OSHA or other appropriate regulatory
agency. Thus, employees have a right to seek safety and health on
the job without fear of punishment. That right is spelled out in
Section 11(c) of the Act.
The law says the employer cannot punish or discriminate against
employees for exercising such right as complaining to the employer,
union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and
health hazards; or for participation in OSHA inspections,
conferences, hearings, or other OSHA-related activities.
Workers believing they have been punished for exercising safety and
health rights must contact the nearest OSHA office within 30 days of
the time they learn of the alleged discrimination. A representative
of the employee's choosing can file the 11(c) complaint for the
worker. Following a complaint, OSHA will contact the complainant and
conduct an in-depth interview to determine whether an investigation
This is one of a series of fact sheets highlighting U.S. Department
of Labor programs. It is intended as a general description only and
does not carry the force of legal opinion.
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