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What to Do When Employees Use Safety as a Reason Not to Work

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on December 9, 2021 at 2:00 PM

You work hard to ensure your customers have a great experience every time. But sometimes, the problem isn’t your product or your work.

It’s your employees refusing to work.

Safety, productivity, and quality go hand-in-hand, and when employees refuse to work for safety reasons, you have to walk a careful boundary. Here’s what to do when employees use safety as a reason not to work.

Workers’ Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

First, you have to understand that in the eyes of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees have the right to refuse dangerous work, regardless of whether or not your workplace employs a stop-work policy.

Remember, under the General Duty Clause, employers are legally obligated to provide their employees with a safe work environment, and employees have the right to report unsafe work conditions without fear of retaliation. OSHA encourages employees to report the issue to their employers first, and if the issue is not resolved, to then file a complaint. If the issue remains unresolved, workers have the right to refuse dangerous work.

The Power of the Stop Work Order

Stop work authority is an incredibly powerful and important protective tool for employees. If your employees refuse to work on safety grounds, they’re exercising stop-work authority. Some workplaces have written stop-work policies, though employees may technically exercise the right even in workplaces that don’t.

Stop-work authority basically means that employees have the right to refuse dangerous work because they have reason to believe that performing their work would pose a serious threat to their own safety.

What to Do When Employees Use Safety as a Reason Not to Work

In order for the refusal to be valid, employees must refuse to work on good faith, meaning they genuinely believe imminent danger exists. Furthermore, any reasonable person assessing the situation must also agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury, and the urgency of the hazard must be such that it isn’t safe to wait long enough for the usual correction channels, such as an OSHA inspection.

If your employees are refusing to work on safety grounds, you have to investigate the issue, regardless of whether or not you think it’s valid. Remember, OSHA almost always comes down in favor of employees, and as far as OSHA is concerned, it is the employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe workplace.

Basically, figuring out what to do when employees use safety as a reason not to work is simple: you have to address the concern, which means investigating and correcting the problem. If you think employees are simply refusing to work, then you have to find strong evidence that their refusal is not in good faith.

The Tools You Need for a Safe, Productive Workplace

Figuring out what to do when employees use safety as a reason not to work presents a thorny environment. And in an ideal world, safety issues wouldn’t get bad enough to reach this point.

Our safety management software helps companies like you stay on the right side of safety, with a powerful, intuitive dashboard that makes it easy to manage every aspect of your safety program. Get in touch today to learn how we can empower safety in your organization.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Risk Management, Incident Management, Safety Management, Safety Culture, Human Resources

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