Safe working conditions are vital for many reasons with workers safety being paramount. Ensuring that employers follow safe procedures significantly decreases the occurrence of work injuries.
Both federal and Pennsylvania law requires that employers follow specific rules and regulations regarding worker safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes and enforces many of these rules.
Unfortunately, not all employers will follow safety procedures or protocols, and that failure often leads to harm for workers. How can you protect yourself from unsafe working conditions? How do you report hazardous working conditions? You may be surprised how simple the answer these questions can be.
Defining an Unsafe Work Environment
Employers are required to ensure that employees’ working environment is free from known dangers.
OSHA provides workplace safety standards and training to ensure that employers are meeting this goal for their workers. When employers violate these rules and standards, it is generally presumed that they are not providing a safe working environment for their employees and are leaving them open to all types of work injuries.
Examples of unsafe working conditions include:
- Inadequate or malfunctioning warning systems (or lack of such a system)
- Flooring that has debris, water, or slippery substances that create a hazard
- Blocked safety exits
- Equipment that is not maintained or not working properly
- Failure to have safety guards
- Unsanitary working conditions, which can increase the risk of illness or death
One of the most common elements that create a dangerous work environment is the failure to keep up with maintenance. Things like regular cleaning and repairing equipment and working areas can go a long way toward ensuring worker safety.
Not all unsafe working environments violate federal or state law. Those conditions that result in “imminent danger,” however, are generally illegal. Such a situation arises where the condition “could be reasonably expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately.”
Some examples of illegal, dangerous working conditions that lead to work injuries include:
- Failure to have safety equipment such as harnesses, safety glasses, earplugs, fire-safe clothing, or other gear that protects you from known hazards of your regular position
- Going into confined spaces without proper preparation and training
- Unguarded machinery or moving parts that workers can physically touch
- Electrical hazards that arise from poor maintenance or improper wiring
Not every dangerous condition will pose a safety threat right away, but that does not mean that it follows required working environment laws.
OSHA and Unsafe Working Conditions
Pennsylvania is one of several states that has both OSHA laws and state laws that ensure worker rights when it comes to safety.
Generally, federal laws protect private sector workers in Pennsylvania. In addition, Pennsylvania’s General Safety Law provides an added layer of protection for many workers.
OSHA requires employers to provide a “safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards.” This requirement is referred to as the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act.
Federal laws require employers to follow strict guidelines to ensure that their employers are protected from workplace hazards. Because each working environment is different, the standards vary by industry.
OSHA divides its requirements into four categories:
- General Industry
“General Industry” is by far the largest group of the four.
A few examples of the areas that OSHA affects include:
- Using safety harnesses for climbing or descending into spaces
- Preventing high levels of noise or ensuring that adequate hearing protection is used
- Providing adequate protection from unsafe or otherwise dangerous machinery
- Training workers on safety protocol and hazards, so they understand how to protect themselves against toxic exposure
State laws in Pennsylvania expand OSHA protections in many situations.
Responding to Unsafe Work Environments
As a worker, you have a right to demand a safe working environment. That means that you can report unsafe working conditions to proper authorities. If you believe a situation is unsafe, you should request that you perform other duties until the situation is corrected.
If a safety violation has occurred, your employer may be fined, and in some serious cases, may even be forced to shut down while they address hazardous working conditions.
How to Report Unsafe Working Conditions
If you believe that your working environment is dangerous, you can file a complaint with OSHA. This will trigger an investigation and inspection of the workplace in many cases.
Keep in mind that you do not have to know whether a specific safety standard was violated to make an OSHA report. Reporting an unsafe work environment requires:
Report the hazard to your employer
Technically, this step is not required. However, it is often the fastest and most efficient way to address a hazard at work. In many situations, simply telling your supervisor or manager about an unsafe condition will trigger immediate action to correct it.
Unfortunately, not all employers will take action after you report an unsafe working condition. In those situations, or where you want to remain anonymous regarding your complaint, submitting a complaint directly to OSHA may be a good idea.
File your complaint with OSHA
You can submit an OSHA complaint in several ways. You can do it by mail, online, or you can also call your regional office. There is, for example, a Philadelphia Area Office where you can report a complaint.
Provide information for an inspection
Your complaint should include a description of the hazard that you are concerned about. The complaint will often trigger an in-person inspection of your work site. If possible, it is a good idea to participate in the investigation so you can provide specific information about your concern areas.
As someone who reports an issue, you will have the opportunity to speak privately with the inspector, and you are encouraged to do so.
Participate in a closing conference
At the end of the inspection, the inspector will share his or her findings with the employer. They will determine if there are any violations and what steps need to be taken to correct those issues. You are permitted to obtain a copy of the report and speak with the inspector regarding their findings in most situations.
If there are willful violations, the employer may be fined for the violations.
Getting Help to Address an Unsafe Work Environment
If you are concerned about the safety of your work environment or that of your co-workers, the PA workers’ compensation lawyers at Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo can help. Contact us to learn more about our services to help workers ensure they have safe work environments that comply with federal and state law: 844-243-4814.