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Under federal OSHA laws, workers have certain rights and protections. One of the most basic is the right to a safe workplace, and the right to speak up about hazards without fear of retaliation.
Of course, for many employees, the fear of retaliation is still quite real. After all, employees have families to feed and bills to pay, and they don’t want to risk their jobs. And while EHS teams might reassure them otherwise, they still don’t want to risk causing a fuss–even though they don’t want to risk their own well being either.
Here’s a quick review of some important resources for EHS teams to share with their employees, including information on how to report a complaint to OSHA anonymously.
Contacting OSHA is one option among many to reduce risk and mitigate hazards. It should be a point of last resort when other, more immediate avenues to fix the problem don’t work.
Your first point of contact should be to report the issue to your supervisor. Under the General Duty Clause, it is an employer’s responsibility to provide a workplace that’s free from recognized hazards which are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. In other words, the employer is supposed to understand the workplace and when hazards are identified, do whatever they can to reduce or eliminate the risks.
If that doesn’t work and you notice a persistent and serious safety issue, which has been properly reported to the employer and left unresolved, it may be time to reach out to either the safety representative or to your union representative, if you have one. It’s important to note that if you do decide to take this step and reach out to the safety representative or to your union representative, make sure they properly document your complaint.
If those options don’t succeed, and if you or your colleagues are in imminent danger, under certain conditions you may have a legal right to refuse work. In these situations OSHA should be contacted immediately however, employees who are experiencing working conditions that are clearly presenting an immediate risk of death or serious physical harm should not continue working while they wait for OSHA to respond.
If you need to file a complaint with OSHA, you’ve got several options, one of which is to do so anonymously which might be a good option if you’re worried about retaliation. In that case, it’s important to understand that you are legally protected from employer retaliation under the federal Whistleblower Protection Program.
The easiest ways to file an OSHA complaint and to request an on-site inspection are to do so using the online complaint form or to complete the paper OSHA Complaint Form and either email, fax or mail it back to your local OSHA office. However, if you’d rather speak to an OSHA representative, you can always choose to call OSHA using their toll free number (800-321-6742 (OSHA), call your local OSHA office or even visit the office in person.
If you believe you are being retaliated against for making a complaint, you should use this form instead to file a whistleblower complaint.
Please note that signed complaints are given a higher priority and are more likely to result in an on-site inspection. Either way, if you’ve followed your company’s reporting policy and aren’t getting a timely resolution, you should file a complaint as soon as possible and feel comfortable knowing that if you choose to remain anonymous, you can do so and not have your identity revealed to your employer.
The ability to file a complaint with OSHA should be viewed as tool to help protect employees and to help hold employers accountable for their legal safety responsibilities—but this is just one tool in your kit.
Our safety management software empowers safety teams so that you can take charge of safety issues in your workplace and prevent situations where employees feel they have to report to OSHA. Instead, you can cultivate an environment of open understanding, communication, and solutions.
Ready to take a smarter approach to safety? Get in touch to learn how our software can help.
Katy Lyden is a EHS Domain Analyst and Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, Licensed Emergency Medical...
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