An unsafe workplace environment places employers and employees in jeopardy — not to mention customers, partners, and premises visitors, as well. Whether inadvertent or deliberate, being faced with unsafe work conditions can drive employees to want to speak up, improve the situation, and, if appropriate, even take legal action. However, not everyone will know where to start when it comes to evaluating and reporting unsafe working conditions. We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what an unsafe workplace condition can look like — and what you should do about it.
What Is an Unsafe Working Condition in the Workplace?
Unsafe working conditions are conditions that are dangerous or hazardous to any individual expected to be on or authorized to be on the premises of the workplace. These conditions can prevent workers from doing their job and pose a risk to their health and safety. Employers are required to ensure the employees’ working environment is free from known dangers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides workplace safety standards and training to ensure employers meet this goal. When an employer fails to adhere to these rules, it is generally presumed they are not providing a safe working environment for their employees, leaving them open to all sorts of work injuries.
Examples of Unsafe Working Conditions
Unsafe labor conditions can include the following:
- Malfunctioning, inadequate, or missing warning systems
- Flooring that is uneven or has slippery substances that create a hazard
- Obstructed safety exits
- Exposed electrical wiring
- Equipment or machinery that’s not adequately maintained or is not working properly
- Unsanitary working conditions, like asbestos, that can increase the risk of illness or even death
- Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Hazardous materials that can harm or injure workers, including biological and chemical hazards
Who Do I Report Unsafe or Unhealthy Working Conditions to?
Whether you are in an office, restaurant, warehouse, construction site, or any other environment, if you believe your workplace is dangerous, you can file a complaint with OSHA. In many cases, this triggers an investigation and inspection of the workplace.
If you’re wondering how to report an unsafe or unhealthy working condition, you may be thinking about how much you’re required to understand about employer’s practices and breadth of violations. However, you do not need to know whether a specific safety standard was violated to make an OSHA report.
How to Report Unsafe Working Conditions
When considering reporting an unsafe work environment, consider the following:
- Reporting the hazard to your employer: While this step is not required, it may be the most efficient way to address a workplace hazard. Unfortunately, not all employers take action.
- Filing your formal complaint with OSHA: You can submit an OSHA complaint by mail, online, or at a regional office.
- Provide information for inspection: The complaint should include a description of the hazard(s) in question. If possible, it’s wise to be available to the OSHA inspectors to provide specific information about areas of concern.
OSHA Guidelines on Dealing With Unsafe Working Conditions
In the case of unsafe working conditions, a worker in PA can report the violation to their employer as well as OSHA at the state or federal level. Briefly, here are the OSHA guidelines for dealing with unsafe workplace conditions in Pennsylvania:
What should you do if a safety hazard presents an imminent danger?
If the worker’s life and well-being are in imminent danger because of dangerous working conditions, the worker should report the matter to OSHA. The worker also holds the right to refuse to work in the following circumstances:
- The worker reasonably believes that a workplace condition poses a substantial and immediate risk of death or serious physical harm
- The employer refuses to fix or remove the dangerous condition
- The urgency of the situation does not leave enough time for the worker to report the condition to the local agencies or OSHA office
- The worker had no other reasonable alternative
Until the employer removes the danger and determines that no imminent danger is present, the worker can refuse to return to work.
What should you do when a safety hazard does not present an imminent danger?
If the unsafe workplace condition does not pose an imminent danger, the worker should inform the employer in writing about the issue. If the employer does not address the condition satisfactorily, the worker may file a complaint with OSHA in PA.
What If the Employer Retaliates Against a Worker Complaint?
The laws in Pennsylvania, as well as OSHA regulations, prohibit employers from acting in retaliation against a worker who reports a workplace safety violation. In other words, the employer may not demote, decrease the worker’s pay, or fire them because they filed a complaint about dangerous working conditions.
What Rights Do Workers Have Under OSHA?
All workers in Pennsylvania have a right to safe and healthy working conditions. Under OSHA, every worker is entitled to:
- Request the employer to fix any OSHA violation or hazard
- Request for an OSHA inspection of the workplace and its results
- Receive training on the safety and health standards the employer must follow
- Receive training on any hazardous materials they may be exposed to and the steps to protect themselves
- Receive training on potential safety and health hazards specific to their workplace
- File a complaint against the employer’s retaliatory action
Workers cannot be punished in any way or terminated for exercising their rights under OSHA. If this happens, speak to a PA workers’ compensation attorney right away.
When Should I Contact an Attorney?
Unsafe conditions at your workplace in Pennsylvania, and particularly imminent danger, are a serious matter. If you or someone you know are injured in any way, including due to unsafe working conditions at your workplace, you should contact an experienced PA workers’ compensation lawyer to guide you through the process and help get you the benefits you deserve.
For more information about how to receive work injury workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania, contact us today!