What Happens When You File An OSHA Complaint?

What Happens When You File An OSHA Complaint?

Filing an OSHA complaint is a right of all workers and their representatives.

Here’s a simple explanation of the OSHA complaint process, the steps in filing the complaint, and what you can expect after.

What Happens When You File An OSHA Complaint?

Importance of Filing An OSHA Complaint

Filing an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) complaint is an important right of employees. 

Here’s why it’s important to file an OSHA complaint:

To protect workers’ safety

The most important reason to file an OSHA complaint is to ensure workers’ safety and health. According to OSHA, workers should report injuries, safety issues, and even actions taken against them for being whistleblowers. Employers must follow safety laws and care for the well-being of their workers. They should also maintain a safe environment for voicing concerns about workplace hazards. An employee or worker filing an OSHA complaint can help mitigate the risks of accidents and hold employers accountable for any violations pertaining to workplace health and safety.

Thanks to OSHA’s, employers’ and workers’ collaborative efforts, work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses have decreased in the U.S. OSHA says that, on average, worker deaths went down from 38 a day in 1970 to 15 a day in 2022. Meanwhile, worker injuries and illnesses are down from 10.9 incidents/100 workers in 1972 to 2.7/100 in 2022.

To comply with U.S. laws

In the U.S., workplace safety is primarily governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The OSH Act created OSHA, the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety and health standards. It also requires employers to provide a safe workplace free from recognized hazards that can harm or put the workers’ lives at risk. If an employer violates this U.S. law on workplace safety, OSHA can issue citations and impose OSHA penalties.

Moreover, filing a complaint can compel employers to address violations of OSHA workplace standards. Employers may not take the law seriously if workers continue to remain silent on work-related hazards. Left unregulated, some establishments can expose their workers to harsh labor conditions and hazardous materials.

See: What Is the Mission of OSHA

What Happens When You File An OSHA Complaint?

How to File an OSHA Complaint

The OSHA complaint process should be the last resort after all methods have been exhausted to bring a workplace hazard to the management’s attention. OSHA’s file a complaint webpage provides the following guidance:

1. Know the violated standards

You should be aware of common OSHA violations in your industry. For example, nurses frequently face hazards such as handling potentially toxic fluids or lack of protective gear. Construction workers, on the other hand, are more susceptible to falls and dangerous equipment. You can search the frequently cited Federal or State OSHA standards for a specified North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code.

2. Identify the type of complaint

OSHA distinguishes between Safety and Health Complaints and Whistleblower Complaints. The main differences are the following:

  • Safety and Health Complaints report unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
  • Whistleblower complaints report employers who retaliate or make threats for raising a safety or health concern. These employers may fire, demote, or discipline workers who file Safety and Health Complaints.
  • Whistleblower complaints cannot be filed anonymously.
  • Safety and Health complaints should be filed less than 6 months after the incident.
  • Whistleblower complaints have 30-180 days filing deadlines, depending on the statute.

3. Use the appropriate OSHA complaint form.

OSHA provides two complaint forms on its website. To file a Safety and Health Complaint, fill out and send the OSHA Online Complaint Form. To file a whistleblower complaint, fill out and send the OSHA Online Whistleblower Complaint Form. Do not use these forms for emergency situations, deaths, and imminent file-threatening situations. Instead, contact OSHA’s toll-free numbers:

  • 1-800-321-OSHA (6742)  
  • TTY 1-877-889-5627

4. Submit a written request for on-site inspections.

Workers who file Safety and Health complaints and would like OSHA to conduct an on-site inspection should submit a written request. You can send the written request to your state’s OSHA office. For OSHA to conduct an on-site inspection, your request should meet at least one of eight criteria, which you can view on the Federal OSHA complaint handling process.

What Happens When You File An OSHA Complaint?

What Happens When You File an OSHA Complaint?

OSHA evaluates each complaint to know how it can best handle the situation. The OSHA  complaint process involves several steps:

1. Evaluation 

 The OSHA staff assess if there are reasonable grounds to believe a violation or hazard exists. If the employer is addressing the hazard, OSHA may not conduct an investigation. OSHA also evaluates each complaint to determine whether an off-site or on-site inspection is necessary. Workers can request an on-site inspection, and their identities are kept confidential. OSHA prioritizes inspections based on imminent danger, fatalities, catastrophes, employee complaints, and referrals. 

2. Phone or fax investigation 

OSHA may conduct a phone or fax investigation if an on-site inspection is not warranted. The employer is contacted to address the alleged hazards and should respond within five days.

3. Worker involvement during inspections

Workers’ representatives (such as unions) have the right to accompany OSHA inspectors during inspections. Workers can also speak confidentially with inspectors and provide information about the hazards.

4. Notification of findings

After the investigations or inspections, OSHA sends findings to the worker or their representative, including citations and proposed penalties. Employers must post the citations at the workplace.

5. State plans

Some states have OSHA-approved state plans, which provide similar protections to workers. Complaints in these states are forwarded to the appropriate state plan for a response.

Kent Cañas

Kent is a content strategist currently specializing in HIPAA-compliant online fax. Her expertise in this field allows her to provide valuable insights to clients seeking a secure and efficient online fax solution.

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