Other Sources of OSHA Assistance Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines State Programs Consultation Services Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) Training and Education Electronic Information Emergencies
U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration
This informational booklet is intended to provide a generic, non-exhaustive overview of a particular standards-related topic. This publication does not itself alter or determine compliance responsibilities, which are set forth in OSHA standards themselves and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Moreover, because interpretations and enforcement policy may change over time, for additional guidance on OSHA compliance requirements, the reader should consult current administrative interpretations and decisions by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and the courts.
Material contained in this publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced, fully or partially, without permission of the Federal Government. Source credit is requested but not required.
OSHA: Employee Workplace Rights
U.S. Department of Labor Elaine L. Chao, Secretary
Occupational Safety and Health Administration John L. Henshaw, Assistant
OSHA 3021-08R 2003
This informational booklet
provides a general overview of a particular topic related to OSHA standards. It
does not alter or determine compliance responsibilities in OSHA standards or the
Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Because interpretations and
enforcement policy may change over time, you should consult current OSHA
administrative interpretations and decisions by the Occupational Safety and
Health Review Commission and the Courts for additional guidance on OSHA
This information is available to sensory
impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 693-1999; teletypewriter
(TTY) number: (877) 889-5627.
Worker Rights Under the OSH Act
Worker Rights to Information
Worker Rights to Access Records and Test
Worker Rights to Promote Workplace Safety
During the Inspection Process
Worker Rights to Protection from
Worker Rights in State-Plan States
OSHA Assistance, Services, and Programs
Regional Office Directory
Worker Rights Under the OSH Act
The law encourages workers to be active players in their workplace's
safety and health effort. It gives employees the right to
Review copies of appropriate standards, rules, regulations, and
requirements that the employer is required to have available at the
Request information from the employer on safety and health hazards in
the workplace, appropriate precautions to take, and procedures to follow if
the employee is involved in an accident or is exposed to toxic substances;
Gain access to relevant employee exposure and medical records;
Request an OSHA inspection if they believe hazardous conditions or
violations of standards exist in the workplace;
Accompany an OSHA compliance officer during the inspection tour, or have
an authorized employee representative do so;
Respond to questions from the OSHA compliance officer;
Observe any monitoring or measuring of hazardous materials and see the
resulting records, as specified under the OSH Act and required by OSHA
Review or have an authorized representative review the employer's Log of
Work-Related Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA 300) at a reasonable
time and in a reasonable manner;
Object to the timeframe set by OSHA for the employer to correct a
violation by writing to the OSHA area director within 15 working days from
the date the employer receives the citation;
Submit a written request to the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health for information on whether any substance in the workplace
has potentially toxic effects in the concentration being used, and, if
requested, have their names withheld from the employer;
Be notified if the employer applies for a variance from an OSHA
standard, and have an opportunity to testify at a variance hearing and
appeal the final decision;
Have their names withheld from their employer, by request to OSHA, if
they sign and file a written complaint;
Be advised of OSHA actions regarding a complaint, and request an
informal review of any decision not to inspect the site or issue a citation;
File a complaint if punished or discriminated against for acting as a
"whistleblower" under the OSH Act or 13 other federal statutes for which
OSHA has jurisdiction, or for refusing to work when faced with imminent
danger of death or serious injury and there is insufficient time for OSHA to
Worker Rights to Information
Employers have a legal obligation to
inform employees of OSHA safety and health standards that apply to their
workplace. Upon request, the employer must make available copies of those
standards and the OSH Act. The employer also must prominently display the
official OSHA poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH
Protecting employees who work with hazardous materials
Employers must establish a written, comprehensive hazard communication
program to ensure that employees who work with or near hazardous materials are
informed of the hazards and provided proper protection. A hazard communication
program includes provisions for container labeling, material safety data sheets,
and an employee training program. The program must include
A list of the hazardous chemicals in each workplace and material safety
data sheets for each;
Methods the employer uses to inform employees of the hazards of
non-routine tasks (for example, the cleaning of reactor vessels) and the
hazards associated with chemicals in unlabeled pipes in their work areas;
A description of methods the employer at a multi-employer worksite will
use to inform other employers at the site of the hazards to which their
employees may be exposed.
Employee rights when an employer files a variance
Some employers may not be able to comply fully with a new safety and health
standard in the time provided due to shortages of personnel, materials, or
equipment. In these situations, employers may apply to OSHA for a temporary
variance from the standard. In other cases, employers may prefer to use methods
or equipment that differ from those prescribed by OSHA, but which the employer
believes are equal to or better than OSHA's requirements. In these cases, the
employer may seek a permanent variance for the alternative approach.
employer's application for a permanent or temporary variance must include
The employer has informed workers of the variance application;
The employee representative receives a copy of the variance application;
The employer has posted a summary of the application wherever notices
are normally posted in the workplace.
Employers also must inform employees that they have the
right to request a hearing on the application. OSHA encourages employees,
employers, and other interested groups to participate in the variance process.
Notices of variance applications are published in the Federal Register inviting
all interested parties to comment on the action.
Worker Rights to Access Records and Test
Access to exposure and medical records
Employers must inform employees of the existence, location, and availability of
their medical and exposure records when they begin employment and then at least
Employers also must provide these records to employees or their
designated representatives upon request.
Whenever an employer plans to
stop doing business and there is no successor employer to receive and maintain
these records, the employer must notify employees of their right of access to
these records at least three months before closing the business.
to observe monitoring procedures and see testing results
standards require the employer to measure exposure to harmful substances. The
employee (or employee representative) has the right to observe the testing and
examine the records of the results. If the exposure levels are above the limit
set by an OSHA standard, the employer must tell employees what will be done to
reduce the exposure.
During an OSHA inspection, an OSHA industrial
hygienist may conduct exposure tests if health hazards may be present in the
workplace. The inspector may take samples to measure levels of dust, noise,
fumes, or other hazardous materials.
OSHA will inform the employee or
employee representative who participates in the inspection as to whether the
employer is in compliance with OSHA standards. The inspector also will gather
detailed information about the employer's efforts to control health hazards,
including results of tests the employer may have conducted.
review injury and illness records
An employer with more than 10
employees must maintain records of all work-related injuries and illnesses, and
the employees or their representative have the right to review those records.
Some industries with very low injury rates are exempt from these recordkeeping
Worker Rights to
Promote Workplace Safety
Working cooperatively to reduce hazards
OSHA encourages employers and employees to work together to reduce hazards.
Employees should discuss safety and health problems with the employer, other
workers, and, if a labor union exists, union representatives. The OSHA area
office can provide information on OSHA requirements. If the worksite is in a
state with its own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health program, the
state can provide similar information. (See page 16 for more information about
Right to refuse to perform unsafe work
Although nothing in the OSHA law specifically gives an employee the right to
refuse to perform an unsafe or unhealthful job assignment, OSHA's regulations,
which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, provide that an employee may
refuse to work when faced with an imminent danger of death or serious injury.
The conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very stringent, however,
and a work refusal should be taken only as a last resort. If time permits, the
employee should report the unhealthful or unsafe condition to OSHA or another
appropriate regulatory agency.
Recourse if the employer does not
correct a hazard
An employee may file a complaint by phone, mail,
email, or fax with the nearest OSHA office and request an inspection if there
are unsafe or unhealthful working conditions. When doing so, the employee
request that OSHA not reveal his or her name. If the OSHA area or state office
determines that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a violation or
danger exists, the office will investigate.
To file a complaint, call
(800) 321-OSHA (6742); contact the nearest OSHA regional, areas, state plan, or
consultation office; or file on online complaint at www.osha.gov. The
teletypewriter (TTY) number is (877) 889-5627.
Worker Rights During the Inspection Process
Right to representation
The OSH Act gives employees or a
workers' representative the right to accompany an OSHA compliance officer (also
referred to as a compliance safety and health officer, CSHO, or inspector)
during an inspection. The labor union, if one exists, or the employees must
choose the representative.
Under no circumstances may the employer choose
the workers' representative. If more than one union represents the employees,
each union may choose a representative. Normally, union representatives will
accompany the inspector in the areas of the facility where their members work.
An OSHA inspector may conduct a comprehensive inspection of the entire workplace
or a partial inspection limited to certain areas or aspects of the operation.
Right to help the compliance officer
Workers have a right to
talk privately to the compliance officer on a confidential basis, whether or not
a workers' representative has been chosen. Workers are encouraged to
Point out hazards;
Describe accidents or illnesses that resulted from those hazards;
Discuss past worker complaints about hazards; and
Inform the inspector if working conditions are not normal during the
Rights to information following the inspection
At the end of the inspection, the OSHA inspector will meet with the employer
and the employee representatives in a closing conference to discuss how any
hazards that may have been found will be abated. If it is not practical to hold
a joint conference, the compliance officer will hold separate conferences. OSHA
will provide written summaries, on request.
How to challenge the
Whether or not the employer accepts OSHA's findings,
the employee (or representative) has the right to contest the time OSHA allows
for correcting a hazard. This contest must be filed in writing with the OSHA
area director within 15 working days after the citation is issued. The
Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency that is
not part of the Department of Labor, will decide whether to change the abatement
Right to information if no inspection is conducted or no
The OSHA area director evaluates complaints from
employees or their representatives and decides whether they are valid. If the
area director decides not to inspect the workplace, he or she will send a
certified letter to the complainant explaining the decision and the reasons for
OSHA will inform complainants that they have the right to request
further clarification of the decision from the OSHA area director. If still
dissatisfied, they can appeal to the OSHA regional administrator for an informal
review. Similarly, in the event that OSHA decides not to issue a citation after
an inspection, employees have a right to further clarification from the area
director and an informal review by the regional administrator.
Worker Rights to Protection from Retaliation
Right to confidentiality
Employees who make a complaint to
OSHA about safety and health hazards in their workplaces have a right to
confidentiality. If the employee requests that his or her name not be used, OSHA
will not tell the employer who filed the complaint or requested an inspection.
Employees have a right to seek
safety and health on the job without fear of punishment. That right is spelled
out in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. The law forbids the employer from punishing
or discriminating against employees for exercising such rights as
Complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency
about job safety and health hazards; and
Participating in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings, or other
States administering their own occupational safety and
health programs must have provisions at least as effective as those in the OSH
Act to protect employees from discharge or discrimination. OSHA, however,
retains its whistleblower protection authority in all states regardless of the
existence of an OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program.
Workers who believe they have been punished for exercising safety and health
rights must contact the nearest OSHA office within 30 days of the time they
learn of the alleged discrimination. A representative of the employee's choosing
can file the complaint for the worker. Following a complaint, OSHA will contact
the complainant and conduct an in-depth interview to determine whether an
investigation is necessary.
If the evidence shows that the employee has
been punished for exercising safety and health rights, OSHA will ask the
employer to restore that worker's job, earnings, and benefits. If the employer
refuses, OSHA may take the employer to court. In such cases, a Department of
Labor attorney will represent the employee to obtain this relief.
Additional whistleblower protections
Since passage of the OSH Act in
1970, Congress has expanded OSHA's whistleblower protection authority to protect
workers from discrimination under 13 additional federal statutes. The agency's
investigators receive about 2,000 complaints a year from employees who charge
their employer with retaliation. Complaints must be reported to OSHA within set
timeframes following the discriminatory action, as prescribed by each law.
These statutes, and the number of days employees have to file a complaint,
Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (30 days)
Provides discrimination protection for employees who exercise a variety of
rights guaranteed under the Act, such as filing a safety and health
complaint with OSHA and participating in an inspection.
Surface Transportation Assistance Act (180 days)
Provides discrimination protections for truck drivers and other employees
relating to the safety of commercial motor vehicles. Coverage includes all
buses for hire and freight trucks with a gross vehicle weight greater than
Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (90 days)
Provides discrimination protection for individuals who report violations of
environmental laws relating to asbestos in elementary and secondary school
systems, public or private.
International Safety Container Act (60 days) Provides
discrimination protection for employees who report violations of the Act,
which regulates shipping containers.
Energy Reorganization Act (180 days) Provides
discrimination protection for employees of operators and subcontractors of
nuclear power plants licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and for
employees of contractors working under contract with the Department of
Clean Air Act (30 days) Provides discrimination
protection for employees who report violations of the Act, which provides
for the development and enforcement of standards regarding air quality and
Safe Drinking Water Act (30 days) Provides
discrimination protection for employees who report violations of the Act,
which requires that all drinking water systems in public buildings and new
construction of all types be lead free.
Federal Water Pollution Control Act (30 days) Provides
discrimination protection for employees who report hazardous pollution of
waters that provide a natural habitant for living things. Also called the
Clean Water Act.
Toxic Substances Control Act (30 days) Provides
discrimination protection for employees who report violations of regulations
involving the manufacture, distribution, and use of certain toxic
Solid Waste Disposal Act (30 days) Provides
discrimination protection for employees who exercise certain rights under
the Act, which provides assistance for the development of facilities for the
recovery of energy and other resources from discarded materials and
regulates hazardous waste management. Also called the Resource Conservation
and Recovery Act.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act (30 days) Provides discrimination protection for employees
who exercise rights under the Act, which provides liability, compensation,
cleanup, and emergency response for hazardous substances released into the
environment and for the cleanup of inactive hazardous waste disposal sites.
Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st
Century (90 days) Provides discrimination protection for
employees of air carriers, contractors, or subcontractors of air carriers
who raise safety concerns.
Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act of 2002
(90 days) Provides discrimination protection for employees of publicly
traded companies or brokerage firms or their contractors, subcontractors, or
agents, who report violations of the Act, which covers mail, wire, bank, or
securities fraud or violations of laws related to fraud against
Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (180 days)
Provides discrimination protection for employees who report violations of
the federal law regarding pipeline safety and security or who refuse to
violate such provisions.
OSHA's publication, "Protecting Whistleblowers," (OSHA
3164) provides additional information. It is available on the agency website at
www.osha.gov. If you believe that you have been discriminated against, call
(800) 321-OSHA (6742) to be connected to the nearest OSHA office to report your
Worker Rights in
States that assume responsibility for
their own occupational safety and health programs must have provisions at least
as effective as Federal OSHA's, including the protection of employee rights.
Any interested person or group, including employees, with a complaint
concerning the operation or administration of a state plan may submit a
complaint to the appropriate OSHA regional administrator. (See contact lists at
the end of this booklet.) The OSHA regional administrator will investigate the
complaints and inform the state and the complainant of these findings. When
appropriate, OSHA will recommend corrective action.
Although OSHA does not cite employees for violations, the OSH Act requires that
each employee "shall comply with all occupational safety and health standards
and all rules, regulations, and orders issued under the Act" that are
applicable. Each employee should
Read the OSHA poster at the jobsite;
Comply with all applicable OSHA standards;
Follow all lawful employer safety and health rules and regulations, and
wear or use prescribed protective equipment while working;
Report hazardous conditions to the supervisor;
Report any job-related injury or illness to the employer, and seek
Cooperate with the OSHA compliance officer conducting an inspection if
he or she inquires about safety and health conditions in the workplace; and
Exercise rights under the OSH Act in a responsible manner.
OSHA Assistance, Services, and Programs
OSHA can provide extensive help through a variety of programs,
including assistance about safety and health programs, state plans, workplace
consultations, voluntary protection programs, strategic partnerships, alliances,
and training and education. An overall commitment to workplace safety and health
can add value to your business, your workplace, and your life.
Establishing a safety and health management system
Working in a safe
and healthful environment can stimulate innovation and creativity and result in
increased performance and higher productivity. The key to a safe and healthful
work environment is a comprehensive safety and health management system.
OSHA has electronic compliance assistance tools, or eTools, on its website that
walks users through the steps required to develop a comprehensive safety and
health program. The eTools are posted at www.osha.gov, and are based on
guidelines that identify four general elements critical to a successful safety
and health management system:
Management leadership and employee involvement,
Hazard prevention and control, and
Safety and health training.
The Occupational Safety and
Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) encourages states to develop and operate their own
job safety and health plans. OSHA approves and monitors these plans and funds up
to 50 percent of each program's operating costs. State plans must provide
standards and enforcement programs, as well as voluntary compliance activities,
that are at least as effective as federal OSHA's.
Currently, 26 states
and territories have their own plans. Twenty-three cover both private and public
(state and local government) employees and three states, Connecticut, New
Jersey, and New York, cover only the public sector. For more information on
state plans, visit
assistance is available on request to employers who want help establishing and
maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. Funded largely by OSHA, the service
is provided at no cost to small employers and is delivered by state authorities
through professional safety and health consultants.
Safety and Health
Achievement Recognition Program
Under the consultation program,
certain exemplary employers may request participation in OSHA's Safety and
Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). Eligibility for participation
includes, but is not limited to, receiving a full-service, comprehensive
consultation visit, correcting all identified hazards, and developing an
effective safety and health management system.
Employers accepted into
SHARP may receive an exemption from programmed inspections (not complaint or
accident investigation inspections) for 1 year initially, or 2 years upon
renewal. For more information about consultation assistance, visit
Voluntary Protection Programs
Voluntary Protection Programs
(VPP) are designed to recognize outstanding achievements by companies that have
developed and implemented effective safety and health management programs. There
are three VPP programs: Star, Merit, and Demonstration. All are designed to
Recognize employers who that have successfully developed and implemented
effective and comprehensive safety and health management programs;
Encourage these employers to continuously improve their safety and
health management programs;
Motivate other employers to achieve excellent safety and health results
in the same outstanding way; and
Establish a cooperative relationship between employers, employees, and
VPP participation can bring many benefits to employers and
employees, including fewer worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses;
lost-workday case rates generally 50 percent below industry averages; and lower
workers' compensation and other injury- and illness-related costs. In addition,
many VPP sites report improved employee motivation to work safely, leading to a
better quality of life at work; positive community recognition and interaction;
further improvement and revitalization of already-good safety and health
programs; and a positive relationship with OSHA.
on VPP is available from OSHA regional offices listed at the end of this
booklet. Also, see "Cooperative Programs" on OSHA's website.
OSHA has learned firsthand that voluntary,
cooperative partnerships with employers, employees, and unions can be a useful
alternative to traditional enforcement and an effective way to reduce worker
deaths, injuries, and illnesses. This is especially true when a partnership
leads to the development and implementation of a comprehensive workplace safety
and health management system.
enable organizations committed to workplace safety and health to collaborate
with OSHA to prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. OSHA and its
allies work together to reach out to, educate, and lead the nation's employers
and their employees in improving and advancing workplace safety and health.
Alliances are open to all, including trade or professional organizations,
businesses, labor organizations, educational institutions, and government
agencies. In some cases, organizations may be building on existing relationships
with OSHA through other cooperative programs.
There are few formal
program requirements for Alliances, which are less structured than other
cooperative agreements, and the agreements do not include an enforcement
component. However, OSHA and the participating organizations must define,
implement, and meet a set of short- and long-term goals that fall into three
categories: training and education; outreach and communication; and promotion of
the national dialogue on workplace safety and health.
OSHA Strategic Partnerships are agreements among
labor, management, and government to improve workplace safety and health. These
partnerships encourage, assist, and recognize the efforts of the partners to
eliminate serious workplace hazards and achieve a high level of worker safety
and health. Whereas OSHA's Consultation Program and VPP entail one-on-one
relationships between OSHA and individual worksites, most strategic partnerships
build cooperative relationships with groups of employers and employees.
For more information about this program, contact your nearest OSHA office or
visit our website.
Occupational safety and health training
The OSHA Training Institute in Arlington Heights, Ill., provides basic and
advanced training and education in safety and health for federal and state
compliance officers, state consultants, other federal agency personnel, and
private-sector employers, employees, and their representatives.
addition, 20 OSHA Training Institute Education Centers at 35 locations
throughout the United States deliver courses on OSHA standards and occupational
safety and health issues to thousands of students a year.
OSHA awards grants to nonprofit organizations to provide
safety and health training and education to employers and workers in the
workplace. Grants often focus on high-risk activities or hazards or may help
nonprofit organizations in training, education, and outreach.
expects each grantee to develop a program that addresses a safety and health
topic named by OSHA, recruit workers and employers for the training, and conduct
the training. Grantees are also expected to follow up with students to find out
how they applied the training in their workplaces.
For more information
on training or grants, contact OSHA Office of Training and Education, 2020
Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights, IL 60005; or call (847) 297-4810.
Other assistance materials
OSHA has a variety of materials and
tools on its website at www.osha.gov. These include eTools such as Expert
Advisors and Electronic Compliance Assistance Tools, information on specific
health and safety topics, regulations, directives, publications, videos, and
other information for employers and employees.
OSHA also has an extensive
publications program. For a list of items, visit OSHA's website at www.osha.gov or
contact the OSHA Publications Office, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution
Avenue, NW, N-3101, Washington, DC 20210. Telephone (202) 693-1888 or fax to
In addition, OSHA's CD-ROM includes standards,
interpretations, directives, and more. It is available for sale from the U.S.
Government Printing Office. To order, write to the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or phone (202) 512-1800.
To contact OSHA To report an emergency, file a complaint, or seek
OSHA advice, assistance, or products, call (800) 321-OSHA (6742) or contact your
nearest OSHA regional office listed at the end of this publication. The
teletypewriter (TTY) number is (877) 889-5627.
Employees can also file a
complaint online and get more information on OSHA federal and state programs by
visiting OSHA's website at
Region I (CT,* ME, MA, NH, RI, VT*) Boston, MA 02203 (617)
Region II (NJ,* NY,* PR,* VI*) 201 Varick Street,
Room 670 New York, NY 10014 (212) 337-2378
(DE, DC, MD,* PA,* VA,* WV) The Curtis Center 170 S. Independence Mall
West Suite 740 West Philadelphia, PA 19106-3309 (215) 861-4900
Region IV (AL, FL, GA, KY,* MS, NC,* SC,* TN*) Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth Street SW, Room 6T50 Atlanta, GA 30303 (404) 562-2300
Region V (IL, IN,* MI,* MN,* OH, WI) 230 South Dearborn Street,
Room 3244 Chicago, IL 60604 (312) 353-2220
Region VI (AR,
LA, NM,* OK, TX) 525 Griffin Street, Room 602 Dallas, TX 75202 (214)
767-4731 or 4736 x224
Region VII (IA,* KS, MO, NE) City
Center Square 1100 Main Street, Suite 800 Kansas City, MO 64105 (816)
Region VIII (CO, MT, ND, SD, UT,* WY*) 1999
Broadway, Suite 1690 PO Box 46550 Denver, CO 80202-5716 (303) 844-1600
Region IX (American Samoa, AZ,* CA,* HI, NV,* Northern Mariana
Islands) 71 Stevenson Street, Room 420 San Francisco, CA 94105 (415)
Region X (AK,* ID, OR,* WA*) 1111 Third Avenue,
Suite 715 Seattle, WA 98101-3212 (206) 553-5930
*These states and
territories operate their own OSHAapproved job safety and health programs.
(Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York plans cover public employees only.)
States with approved programs must have a standard that is identical to, or at
least as effective as, the federal standard.
Note: To get contact
information for OSHA area offices, OSHA-approved state plans, and OSHA
consultation projects, visit www.osha.gov or
call (800) 321-OSHA (6742).