You have the right to a safe work environment. This means your employer must protect you and your coworkers from known hazards that could cause illness or injury. Your employer must also provide you with the information, training, tools, and equipment necessary to safely perform your job.
Unfortunately, not all workplaces meet these standards. Unsafe working conditions can include anything from the presence of hazardous materials to a lack of appropriate safety training. While employers must prevent these hazards, it’s also the responsibility of employees to recognize and report them.
If you feel that your employer has violated these laws and has subjected you to unsafe working conditions, or if you’ve been injured at work due to unsafe working conditions, contact the Durham workers’ compensation lawyers at Johnson & Groninger PLLC today. To schedule your free consultation, contact us online or call (919) 240-4054.
Common unsafe working conditions
Some forms of unsafe working conditions can be difficult to detect, but they’re rarely completely hidden from sight. If you notice any of the following, it may be a subtle (or not-so-subtle) sign that your workplace isn’t as safe as it should be:
- Frequent illness or injury among you or your coworkers
- High levels of dust, fumes, and other airborne particles in the workplace
- Unclear communication or instructions
- Continuously noisy machinery and/or lack of hearing protection
- Slippery, uneven, or cluttered walking surfaces
- Unlabeled containers
- Exposed, frayed, or faulty wiring
- Restricted access to emergency exits
- Extreme temperatures
- Dark or poorly lit hallways or work areas
- Hostile or aggressive behavior from coworkers or supervisors
- Unqualified or untrained personnel
- Missing or nonexistent safety equipment
- Safety complaints from employees that have continually been ignored
These are just a few examples of what an unsafe workplace might look like, but the list isn’t exhaustive. If you have any concerns about the safety of your workplace, trust your judgment and take immediate action.
Alert your employer
Most employers are willing to make corrections when they’re made aware of an issue. You have the right to report hazards without fear of retaliation such as being fired or demoted, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you recognize or suspect unsafe working conditions.
Start by communicating your safety concerns in writing to your manager, supervisor, or human resources representative. Many workplaces have official forms for reporting unsafe conditions, so make sure you read the policies and procedures of your workplace for guidance.
Keep a copy of the written report for your records, and follow up with your employer to ensure that corrective action has been taken within a reasonable timeframe. The timeframe for corrective action will depend on the severity of the hazard, but your employer should provide you with a timeline upon receiving your written complaint.
File a complaint with OSHA
If the hazard is particularly dangerous, has already caused an injury, or has already been reported to no avail, you should contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as soon as possible. OSHA is the federal agency responsible for ensuring safe and healthy workplace conditions, and it has the authority to take legal action against employers who violate safety regulations.
Not all workers are covered by OSHA, but if you work in North Carolina, you likely are. The state’s OSHA program covers most private sector employees and all employees of the federal, state, and local governments. You can file a safety and health complaint with OSHA by completing the Online Complaint Form, by calling toll-free at 800-321-6742, or by visiting your local OSHA office.
North Carolina has two OSHA offices, both in Raleigh:
- North Carolina State Plan Office at 111 Hillsborough Street
- OSHA Area Office at 4407 Bland Road Somerset Park Suite 210
You should only file a complaint with the OSHA Area Office if you’re employed by a federal agency, the United States Postal Service, an Indian reservation, the American Red Cross, a military base, or a railroad/maritime employer. All other employers must be reported to the North Carolina State Plan Office.
OSHA complaints are confidential and may result in an inspection of your workplace. If the inspection reveals a violation, OSHA can issue citations and fines to the employer. Follow-up inspections will likely be conducted to ensure that the safety violations have been corrected.
Explore other resources
It’s important to note that some workplace hazards pose an imminent threat to employee safety and can’t wait for a response from your employer or the government. If you notice a hazard of this nature, you may have the right to refuse to work under those conditions. You can learn more about this option from OSHA here.
In addition to OSHA, the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has resources available for workers facing safety issues. Certain work-related injuries can be reported to the Division for investigation using the Workplace Accident Online Form. The Division also allows workers to report safety or health hazards online. These complaints are taken seriously, and the Division is authorized to take action if necessary.
You can also find information on workplace safety in the State Employee Safety and Health Handbook from the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources. This in-depth guide provides an overview of safety regulations and procedures that can help protect you at work.
Contact an attorney if you’ve been injured
While the above resources can help you reduce the likelihood of being harmed by a hazardous work environment, injuries can still occur. If you’ve been injured in the workplace, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits — and a Durham workers’ compensation lawyer can help.
At Johnson & Groninger PLLC, we represent injured workers in North Carolina and are here to help you navigate the process of filing for compensation you are entitled to under the law. Our team is experienced in handling work injury cases, and we strive to secure maximum compensation for our clients. Call our Durham office at (919) 240-4054 or our Charlotte office at (704) 200-2009 to schedule a free consultation and begin exploring your options.