Health and Safety
Do I have any legal rights if I feel that my workplace is unsafe or unhealthy?

The main federal law covering threats to workplace safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace that is free of dangers that could physically harm employees.

The law quite simply requires that your employer protect you from "recognized hazards" in the workplace. It does not specify or limit the types of dangers covered -- it includes everything from equipment that might cause a serious cut or bruise to the unhealthy effects of long-term exposure to radiation, chemicals or airborne pollutants.

Basically, to prove an OSHA violation, you must produce evidence that:

  • your employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard, and
  • the particular hazard was recognized as being likely to cause death or serious physical injury.
Nearly half the states now have their own OSHA laws, most of which offer protections similar to the federal law. State laws typically concentrate on protecting workers who complain about safety violations from being demoted or fired. A few states, including California, require all employers to fashion workplace safety plans. And Texas, big in its approach to most everything, has instituted a 24-hour hotline to receive complaints; the state prohibits employers from discriminating against those who call in.