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Occupational Safety and Health

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is a well-known federal law setting forth safety standards for the workplace. OSHA cannot be used to punish an employer for an unforeseeable accident, but requires an employer to keep its workplace free of "recognized hazards" that could harm employees. Such hazards include faulty equipment and environmental hazards like spilled toxins and pollutants. An employer may be fined $7,000 for each initial violation of OSHA and up to $70,000 for each willful or repeated violation of the law.

Reporting and Record Retention

OSHA requires any employer with more than ten employees to record all injuries, work-related illnesses, and employee exposures to toxic substances, using specific forms. The employer must retain records regarding employee illnesses and injuries for at least five years and records regarding employee exposure to toxic or other harmful substances for at least thirty years. In addition, the employer must report any job-related fatality, or the hospitalization of three or more employees, directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Such a report must be made within eight hours of the accident or death.

Notice

An employer must post a notice regarding employee rights under OSHA in the workplace. These rights include the right of employees or their elected representatives to access records regarding employee exposure to hazardous substances and work-related illnesses, injuries or deaths, and to observe any monitoring of hazardous materials. Likewise, employees have the right to appoint a representative to accompany an OSHA compliance officer on any inspection of the workplace and to be notified if the employer seeks a variance from any OSHA standards.

Employee Protections and Responsibilities

An employee who files a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is a division of the Department of Labor (DoL), gains protections from termination (retaliatory discharge) or other adverse actions by the employer in retaliation for filing the complaint. However, employees have responsibilities under OSHA. Employees must comply with applicable OSHA standards, follow the employer's safety rules and regulations, wear or use prescribed protective equipment while working, and report any apparent hazardous condition to the employer.

Evidence of an OSHA violation may support an injured employee's claims against his or her employer. Generally, claims against employers are resolved in the workers' compensation context rather than in litigation in courts, but there are exceptions. An attorney versed in OSHA compliance issues and environmental law can advise a potential plaintiff on whether he or she has a viable claim for damages. A veteran attorney can also advise a defendant on whether an employee has a valid claim and the potential defenses available, and, on how to avoid OSHA-based injuries and their attendant liability in the first place. In any case, the right attorney is an essential ally in preserving and protecting your legal rights.

To read and printout a copy of the Form please link below.

Intake Form: OSHA-Related Injuries

You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here.

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