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OSHA requires companies to provide a reasonably safe workplace. However, there can be occasions where the company doesn't follow the correct procedure, doesn't repair guards or other critical equipment or pushes people to work past their limits. But what can you do when your workplace is unsafe?

Workplace Is Unsafe

Remove Yourself from Danger

The first thing you should do is take steps to protect yourself. If you realize you're around live wires without protection, leave.

The first thing you should do is take steps to protect yourself. If you realize you're around live wires without protection, leave. If you find yourself up high without adequate fall protection, get to safety. If you're asked to work in unsafe conditions, don't go along with it and then report it. Refuse to put yourself in danger.

However, you need to be reasonable. It is not reasonable to refuse to remove lumber pieces from the ground because you weren't given safety glasses and gloves when working with a power saw. Don't refuse to take care of your patients because someone in the building came down with a serious disease like COVID.

If there are others working in the same conditions, notify them of the problem. They may not realize that an electrical transformer is shorting or industrial equipment is both dangerously hot and unshielded. This has the side benefit of creating additional witnesses to the hazard when you report it. And one of them may be able to make things safe, such as when they turn off industrial equipment.

Report It to the Immediate Manager

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Your first responsibility is to report it to your manager, assuming you are not in immediate danger. This gives the employer an opportunity to correct the issue. We recommend you document your conversation. This is invaluable in proving you did notify management and give them the opportunity to correct the problem. It is also evidence in your defense if they fire you for brining attention to the unsafe conditions.

Don't rush to tell higher managers until your manager has the opportunity to correct the matter. If they do not, then you should escalate the matter to higher managers. Furthermore, you should notify the health and safety department, if your company has one.

Gather Evidence

Whenever possible, gather evidence. Take pictures of the hazard. Take pictures of the surrounding area, too, to put the risk into context. Make copies of employee complaints about the hazard, whether they were written reports or emails. This will ensure that you have evidence of the issue if the employer cleans things up and says there was never a hazard. That creates problems for people who were injured but now may not be able to qualify for worker's compensation. It also protects you from potential ramifications like firing you for refusing to work, when you legally didn't have to work when things were unsafe.

Seek Legal Advice

What can you do when your manager and their manager refuses to address an unsafe workplace? Seek legal advice. They can give you advice on how to document the conditions so that it can be reported to the state occupational health and safety department or the local federal OSHA office. When the company will not deal with dangerous conditions file a claim for unsafe working condition with OSHA, and if necessary, file a lawsuit to force change. They can also give you advice if you've already been injured.

We do not recommend going to the press, because that will not correct things fast enough and can publicize the case when you may best be kept anonymous. That's why you can file a complaint with OSHA anonymously.