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safe work place

Worker Rights

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gave workers many new rights related to safety and health. OSHA standards which have been issued since then, such as the Hazard Communication or “Right to Know” standard, provide additional rights.

Right to a Safe & Healthful Workplace

Most importantly, the creation of OSHA provided workers the right to a safe and healthful workplace. Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act states that each employer:

  • shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees, and
  • comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

Section 5(a)(1) also states the following:

  • Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued to this act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

Right to a Safe & Healthful Workplace (Continued)

safe workplace

A safe and healthful workplace means that hazards are removed and workers are trained. If a hazard cannot be removed completely, protection (for example, respirators or earplugs) must be provided.

Some examples of a safe/healthful workplace include the following components.

  • Fall protection and training are provided and required when working at high levels on a construction site.
  • Machines and equipment with rotating and moving parts are guarded.
  • Trenches are inspected and have protective systems in place.
  • Proper confined space entry procedures, testing, equipment, and training are present.
  • Noise levels are controlled. When levels are still high, hearing tests are conducted and workers are given hearing protection and training.
  • Protection from chemical hazards is provided, including an evaluation of chemicals used, a written program, Safety Data Sheets, worker protection (for example, respirators or gloves), and information and training.

The OSHA Poster


Employers in states operating OSHA-approved state plans post the state’s equivalent poster. See more information on the OSHA Poster.

Right to Know about Hazardous Chemicals

Another important right is the Right to Know about hazardous substances in your workplace. Employers must have a written, complete hazard communication program that includes information on

  • container labeling
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), and
  • worker training.
    • The training must include the physical and health hazards of the chemicals and how workers can protect themselves; including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect workers, such as work practices, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment.

The program must also include a list of the hazardous chemicals in each work area and the means the employer uses to inform workers of the hazards of non-routine tasks. In addition, the program must explain how the employer will inform other employers of hazards to which their workers may be exposed (for example, contract workers).

Safety Data Sheets

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers to provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) (formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs) to communicate the hazards of hazardous chemical products. As of June 1, 2015, the HCS will require new SDSs to be in a uniform format.

Injuries and Illnesses in Your Workplace

OSHA's Form 300
Click to Enlarge

OSHA’s Recordkeeping rule requires most employers with more than 10 workers to keep a log of injuries and illnesses. The log, which is also called the OSHA 300, must contain all work-related injuries and illnesses resulting in lost workdays, restricted work or transfer to another job, as well as any incident requiring more than first aid treatment.

You have the right to review the current log, as well as the logs stored for the past 5 years. The employer must provide this by the end of the next workday. The names and other information on the log may not be removed, unless the case is a “privacy concern case.”

The right to review the log includes former employees, their personal representatives, and authorized employee representatives.

“Privacy concern cases” are those involving an intimate body part, mental illness, HIV, etc. For more details, see 1904.29(b)(7).

You also have the right to view the annually posted summary of the injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300A).

For more information on OSHA Recordkeeping, check out OSHAcademy Course 708 Recordkeeping Basics.

Complaining or Requesting Hazard Correction

rule coverage

Workers may bring up safety and health concerns in the workplace to their employers without fear of discharge or discrimination, as long as the complaint is made in good faith. OSHA regulations [29CFR 1977.9(c)] protect workers who complain to their employer about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in the workplace. You cannot be transferred, denied a raise, have your hours reduced, be fired, or punished in any other way because you have exercised any right afforded to you under the OSH Act.

Workers are often closest to potential safety and health hazards and have a vested interest in reporting problems so that the employer gets them fixed. If reported workplace hazards are not getting corrected by the employer, employees should then contact OSHA.

Note: 1977.9(c) states:

“The principles of the Act would be seriously undermined if employees were discouraged from lodging complaints about occupational safety and health matters with their employers. Such complaints to employers, if made in good faith, therefore would be related to the Act, and an employee would be protected against discharge or discrimination caused by a complaint to the employer.”

Training Rights

You have a right to get training from your employer on a variety of health and safety hazards and standards that your employer must follow. We’ve already discussed the training required under OSHA’s Hazard Communication (Right to Know) standard. Other required training includes lockout-tagout, bloodborne pathogens, noise, confined spaces, fall hazards in construction, personal protective equipment, and a variety of other subjects.

Refusal to Work

Workers have the right to refuse to do a job if they believe in good faith that they are exposed to an imminent danger. "Good faith" means that even if an imminent danger is not found to exist, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist.

The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling which more clearly defined a worker's right to refuse work where an employee has reasonable apprehension that death or serious injury or illness might occur as a result of performing the work. However, as a general rule, you do not have the right to walk off the job because of unsafe conditions.

For more information, see the Refusing to Work Because Conditions are Dangerous fact sheet.

Hazardous Exposure and Medical Records

medical records

Under OSHA’s standard 1910.1020, you have the right to examine and copy exposure and medical records, including records of workplace monitoring or measuring a toxic substance. This is important if you have been exposed to toxic substances or harmful physical agents in the workplace, as this regulation may help you detect, prevent, and treat occupational disease.

Examples of toxic substances and harmful physical agents are:

  • metals and dusts, such as, lead, cadmium, and silica;
  • biological agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi; and
  • physical stress, such as noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

OSHA standards require employers to measure exposure to harmful substances. Workers or their representatives have the right to observe the testing and examine the results. If the exposure levels are above the limit set by the standard, the employer must tell workers what will be done to reduce their exposure.

Filing Complaints with OSHA


You may file a complaint with OSHA if you believe a violation of a safety or health standard or an imminent danger situation exists in your workplace. You may request that your name not be revealed to your employer. You can file a complaint on OSHA’s website, in writing or by calling the nearest OSHA area office. You may also call the office and speak with an OSHA compliance officer about a hazard, violation, or the process for filing a complaint.

If you file a complaint, you have the right to find out OSHA’s action on the complaint and request a review if an inspection is not made.

How to file an OSHA complaint: If you, your co-workers and/or your union representative determine an OSHA inspection is needed to get workplace hazards corrected, you have several options.

  • You can download the complaint form from OSHA’s website, complete it and mail or fax it to OSHA. A written, signed complaint submitted to the OSHA area or State Plan office is most likely to result in an onsite inspection.
  • You can file a complaint online. However, most online complaints are handled by OSHA’s phone/fax system, which means they are resolved informally over the phone.
  • You can call or visit your local regional or area office to discuss your concerns. After the discussion, OSHA staff can give or send you a complaint form if you wish to file a complaint.
  • Note that if a hazard is life-threatening, call the Regional or local office or 1-800-321-OSHA immediately.

Read Your Rights as a Whistleblower fact sheet.

To learn more about identifying safety and health problems in the workplace please click here.

Filing Complaints with OSHA (Continued)

Completing the complaint form: Be specific and include appropriate details: The information on the complaint form may be the only description of the hazard that the inspector will see before the inspection. The inspector will base his or her research and planning on this information.

  • Establishment Name, Address, and Type of Business: Be thorough and specific. The inspector’s research on the company and the industry’s hazards will be based on this information.
  • Hazard Description/Location: The hazard description is the most important part of the form. Your answer should explain the hazards clearly. If your complaint is about chemicals, identify them whenever possible and attach copies of labels or SDSs if you can. Identify the location of the hazard so the inspector will know where to look.
  • Has this condition been brought to the attention of the employer or another government agency? You should indicate on the form if you have tried to get the employer to fix the hazard before filing the complaint. Also, if another agency, such as a local fire or building department, has been notified of these hazards, OSHA may want to consult with them.
  • Do NOT reveal my name: OSHA will keep your name off the complaint, if you wish. Remember that discrimination for health and safety activity is illegal. If you are a union representative, you may wish to have your name on the complaint.
  • Signature and address: It is important to sign the complaint if you want OSHA to conduct an onsite inspection. Also, your address will allow OSHA to send copies of inspection related materials to you.

For more information on filing OSHA complaints, read about these tips, scenarios and forms in General Industry, Construction, and Maritime.

Participating in an OSHA Inspection


If an OSHA inspection is conducted in your workplace, you have the right to have your representative accompany the inspector on the inspection. You also have the right to talk to the inspector privately. You may point out hazards, describe injuries, illnesses or near misses that resulted from those hazards and describe any concern you have about a safety or health issue. You also have the right to find out about inspection results and abatement measures, and get involved in any meetings or hearings related to the inspection. You may also object to the date set for the violation to be corrected and be notified if the employer files a contest.

Note: If an employer disagrees with the results of the OSHA inspection, he or she may submit a written objection to OSHA, called a Notice of Contest.

Retaliation Rights


Workers 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 says the employer shall not punish or discriminate against employees for exercising such rights as complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards.

Workers are also protected for participation in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings, and other OSHA-related activities. Workers also have the right to refuse to do a job if they believe in good faith that they are exposed to an imminent danger. "Good faith" means that even if an imminent danger is not found to exist, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist. Since the conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very stringent, refusing work should be an action taken as a last resort. If time permits, the condition should be reported to OSHA or the appropriate government agency. To learn more about refusing to perform dangerous work please click here.

If you believe you have been punished for exercising your safety and health rights, you must contact OSHA within 30 days.

The Story of OSHA Documentary

Worker Responsibilities

OSHA holds employers responsible for the safety and health conditions in the workplace and does not cite workers for violations. However, Section 5(b) of the OSHA Act states that each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all applicable rules, regulations and orders.

Workers are encouraged to follow all appropriate safety and health rules, and wear protective equipment while working.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Among the rights related to OSHA recordkeeping, workers have the right to review which of the following?

2. A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) gives information about _____.

3. During an OSHA inspection, which of the following is true?

4. The right of workers to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment is spelled out in which of the following?

5. If you believe you have been punished for exercising your safety and health rights, you must contact OSHA within _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.