On December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the OSH Act. This Act created OSHA, the agency, which formally came into being on April 28, 1971. With the creation of OSHA, for the first time, all employers in the United States had the legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees. And, there were now uniform regulations that applied to all workplaces.

The mission of OSHA is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

Some of the things OSHA does to carry out its mission are:

  • developing job safety and health standards and enforcing them through worksite inspections
  • providing training programs and educational materials to increase knowledge about occupational safety and health
  • providing on-site safety and health consultation services for small business
  • promoting the Safety and Health Achievement Program (SHARP) to recognized exemplary employers
  • offering cooperative programs under which employers work cooperatively with OSHA
  • partnering with employers under the OSHA Strategic Partnerships and Alliances (OSP) program
  • recognizing employers who have demonstrated excellence under the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP)

What Rights Do You Have Under OSHA?


This poster is FREE from OSHA, many languages available, go here

With OSHA you have the right to:

  • safe and healthful workplace
  • be free from retaliation for exercising safety and health rights
  • raise a safety or health concern with your employer or OSHA, or report a work-related injury or illness, without being retaliated against
  • receive information and training on job hazards, including all hazardous substances in your workplace
  • request an OSHA inspection of your workplace if you believe there are unsafe or unhealthy conditions
  • refuse to do a task if you believe it is unsafe or unhealthful
  • participate (or have your representative participate) in an OSHA inspection and speak in private to the inspector
  • file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days (by phone, online or by mail) if you have been retaliated against for using your rights
  • see any OSHA citations issued to your employer
  • request copies of your medical records, tests that measure hazards in the workplace, and the workplace injury and illness log

Employer Responsibilities Under OSHA

  • Provide employees a workplace free from recognized hazards. It is illegal to retaliate against an employee for using any of their rights under the law, including raising a health and safety concern with you or with OSHA, or reporting a work-related injury or illness.
  • Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.
  • Report to OSHA all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and all inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye within 24 hours.
  • Provide required training to all workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
  • Prominently display this poster in the workplace.
  • Post OSHA citations at or near the place of the alleged violations.
Learn more about Employer Responsibilities Under OSHA here

Your Right to a Safe and Healthful Workplace

OSHA was created to provide workers the right to a safe and healthful workplace. Let’s look at what the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) says about employer and employee duties.

OSH Act of 1970 Section 5(a) Duties.

(a) Each employer —

  • (1) 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;
  • (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

(b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

Employer obligations. Section 5(a) says employers must:

  • furnish safe employment (work, jobs) and a safe place of employment (the workplace, worksite);
  • provide workplaces that are free of hazards that are known or should have been known by the employer;
  • provide workplaces that are free of hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees; and
  • comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

Employee obligations. The section says employees must:

  • comply with OSHA standards, and
  • comply with employer rules, regulations, and orders which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

Right to Raise Safety Concerns

You may bring up safety and health concerns in the workplace to your employer without fear of discharge or discrimination, as long as the complaint is made in good faith. Check out the video: an Oregon OSHA compliance officer just happened to be on a construction site. Would you, as an employee raise the same concerns as that raised by the Oregon OSHA inspector. If you have concerns, make sure you tell your safety committee, supervisor, or safety manager.

OSHA regulations protect workers who raise concerns to their employer or to OSHA 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.

If you become aware of a hazard where you’re working, be sure to notify your immediate supervisor. If you are not comfortable doing that for some reason, contact the safety manager or a member your safety committee.


Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

You may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. However, you should not leave the worksite merely because you have filed a complaint.

If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, you have brought the condition to the attention of your employer, you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard. OSHA cannot enforce union contracts that give employees the right to refuse to work.

Your right to refuse to do a task is protected if ALL of the following four conditions are met:

  1. Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
  2. You refused to work in “good faith.” This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists; and
  3. A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
  4. There isn’t enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, to get it corrected through regular enforcement channels, such as requesting an OSHA inspection.

If the above conditions are met, you should take the following steps:

  • Ask your employer to correct the hazard, or to assign other work;
  • Tell your employer that you won’t perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected; and
  • Remain at the worksite until ordered to leave by your employer.

Right to Training


Conduct classroom and “hands-on” training.

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 chemical hazards, equipment hazards, noise, confined spaces, fall hazards in construction, personal protective equipment, and a variety of other subjects.

The training must be in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.

Need some workplace training? Check out what the EHS Center offers members here

It is a good idea to keep a record of all safety and health training. Documentation demonstrates employer due diligence and can also supply an answer to one of the first questions OSHA will ask if they conduct an inspection or accident investigation: “Did the employee receive adequate training to do the job?” Remember, as far as OSHA is concerned, if it isn’t in writing, it didn’t get done.

For more information on on OSHA’s training requirements download Publication 2254

Your Right to File a Complaint

You, and your representative, have a right to file a confidential complaint with OSHA if you believe a violation of a safety or health standard that threatens physical harm, or an imminent danger situation, exists in the workplace. Important points to remember include:

  • The complaint will be formalized in writing, and signed by you or your representative.
  • You must set forth reasonable and specific grounds for the notice of complaint.
  • You may request that your name, or that of your representative not be revealed to the employer.
  • OSHA will notify the employer about the complaint, and conduct a special inspection if there are reasonable grounds to believe a violation or danger exists.
  • You have the right to find out OSHA’s action on the complaint and request a review if an inspection is not made.

You can file a complaint online at OSHA’s website, in writing or by telephone to 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.


Right to Participate in OSHA Inspections

During an OSHA inspection, you or your representative has the following rights:

  • Have a representative of employees, such as the safety steward of a labor organization, go along on the inspection;
  • Talk privately with the inspector; and
  • Take part in meetings with the inspector before and after the inspection.

When there is no authorized employee representative, the OSHA inspector must talk confidentially with a reasonable number of workers during the inspection.

Workers are encouraged to:

  • Point out hazards;
  • Describe injuries illnesses or near misses that resulted from these hazards and describe any concerns about a safety or health issue;
  • Discuss past worker complaints about hazards; and
  • Inform the inspector of working conditions that are not normal during the inspection.
  • Find out about inspection results, abatement measures and may object to dates set for violation to be corrected

Right to be Free From Retaliation

Workers have the right to be free from retaliation for exercising safety and health rights called “protected activities.”

  • Workers have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment.
  • This right is spelled out in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.
  • Workers have 30 days to contact OSHA if they feel they have been punished for exercising their safety and health rights.

Protected activities: You may file a complaint with OSHA if your employer retaliates against you by taking unfavorable personnel action because you engaged in protected activity relating to workplace safety or health. Examples of protected activities include complaints about the following:

  • workplace safety and health
  • asbestos in schools
  • cargo containers
  • airlines and commercial motor carrier
  • consumer products food safety and environmental issues
  • financial reform and health insurance reform, and securities laws
  • motor vehicle safety and public transportation
  • nuclear, pipeline, railroad, and maritime safety

Examples of retaliatory actions by your employer may include:

  • applying or issuing a policy which provides for an unfavorable personnel action due to activity protected by a whistleblower law enforced by OSHA
  • blacklisting
  • demoting
  • denying overtime or promotion
  • disciplining
  • denying benefits
  • failing to hire or rehire
  • firing or laying off
  • intimidation
  • making threats
  • reassignment to a less desirable position, including one adversely affecting prospects for promotion
  • reducing pay or hours
  • suspension

How OSHA Determines Whether Retaliation Took Place

The investigation must reveal that:

  • The employee engaged in protected activity;
  • The employer knew about or suspected the protected activity;
  • The employer took an adverse action; and
  • The protected activity motivated or contributed to the adverse action.
Check out OSHA’s Whistleblower Factsheet

If the evidence supports the employee’s allegation and a settlement cannot be reached, OSHA will generally issue an order, which the employer may contest, requiring the employer to reinstate the employee, pay back wages, restore benefits, and other possible remedies to make the employee whole.