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Employers are required by law to provide their employees with a safe working environment free from hazards and other unsafe conditions. Unsafe workplace conditions are not to be taken lightly by employers or employees as they can lead to severe injury or even death.
In 2017, 5,147 workers in the United States were killed on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That breaks down to 99 deaths a week and over 14 deaths each day. Of all the deaths that occurred in the private sector, 20.7 percent of them (1 in 5 workers) were in construction.
In 2017, Iowa private sector employers reported 38,100 nonfatal workplace injuries, according to the BLS. That’s a rate of 3.5 incidents per 100 full-time workers. Of the 38,100 injuries, nearly 20,000 of them were considered “severe” in nature, involving time off from work, job transfer, or restriction.
If you have been injured in Iowa as a result of unsafe workplace conditions, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit and seek compensation. At Higgins Law Firm, PLLC, in Des Moines, Iowa, our experienced Employment Law Attorneys are ready to review your case.
Examples of Unsafe Workplace Conditions
To give you a better idea of what to watch out for, here are six examples of common unsafe working conditions:
- Defective equipment. This may include supplies and tools that are defective when they come from the manufacturer or have worn out over time and haven’t been replaced or repaired.
- Fall hazards. Slippery surfaces, as well as falls from ladders and elevations, can lead to fall accidents.
- Fire hazards. This also includes objects or chemicals with a risk of explosion.
- Inadequate guards. Guards need to be in place for inherently dangerous tools and machinery
- Dangerous air conditions and toxic fumes. If the air is contaminated, employees run the risk of being exposed to severe respiratory issues and other diseases.
- Lack of cleaning and improper housekeeping. If the workplace is dirty and unorganized, serious injuries are more likely.
This is not a comprehensive list. There are many other examples of unsafe workplace conditions. Remember that anything in your workplace that can potentially cause severe injury is as an unsafe workplace condition and should be brought to your supervisor’s attention immediately.
What does OSHA do?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that establishes safety standards and handles private employee complaints related to unsafe working conditions. OSHA aims to protect workers from one-time injuries, disease and illness caused by unsafe working conditions, and potentially fatal hazards.
Under federal law, employers must provide a safe workplace that is free of hazards that could potentially cause death or serious injury. Employers are required to post an OSHA job safety notice somewhere in the workplace, provide safety training if applicable, and keep a record of all deaths, injuries, and exposure to hazardous materials in the workplace.
If the working conditions at your employer are unsafe, OSHA recommends you bring it to your employer’s attention as soon as possible. Rest assured that it is illegal for an employer to terminate or discriminate against an employee for bringing attention to unsafe conditions or for filing for workers’ compensation benefits after suffering an injury on the job.
While employers should always be aware of hazards in the workplace, unfortunately sometimes dangers are accidentally overlooked. If your supervisor does not take action after you voice your concern, the next step is to go to a higher authority, such as a district manager or the company owner. If they too do not take action, contact OSHA immediately.
Filing an OSHA Complaint
While you may file a complaint with OSHA at any time, the agency advises you not leave the workplace because you filed a complaint. If the unsafe working conditions present a risk of death or serious injury, OSHA needs sufficient time to inspect, and you may have a right to refuse to work in an area where you are exposed to dangerous conditions.
You can file an OSHA complaint online, by phone, or in person at the nearest OSHA location. Over half of states, including Iowa, have state-run OSHA programs. You may also need to file a complaint with your state agency.
OSHA has the authority to order your employer to repair unsafe equipment, clean untidy areas that pose a safety risk, and remove workers from the dangerous area, among other actions. If an OSHA inspector believes that a workplace hazard exists, the inspector must inform the affected employees and the employer that OSHA is taking steps to stop the imminent danger and has the right to ask a federal court to order the employer to get rid of the danger immediately.
In 2018, the five most frequently cited OSHA standards were:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication standard
- Respiratory protection
- Control of hazardous energy
Refusing to Work
According to OSHA, your right to refuse work is protected if all of the following conditions are met:
- You asked your employer to do something about the danger and they failed to act
- You refused to work in “good faith,” meaning you must have a legitimate belief that a danger exists with a substantial risk of death or serious injury
- A “reasonable person” would agree with you that the hazard at work presents a danger of death or serious injury
- There is insufficient time to get the hazard fixed by the regular enforcement channels, such as asking for an OSHA inspection
OSHA advises you to take the following steps:
- Ask your employer to eliminate or correct the hazard or do assign you work without danger
- Let your employer know that you will not perform your job until the hazard is corrected
- Remain in the workplace until your employer orders you to leave
Contact An Iowa Unsafe Workplace Conditions Attorney Today
At Higgins Law Firm, PLLC, we are committed to fighting for Iowa workers who have experienced unsafe working conditions. We aggressively defend the rights of workers and families dealing with on-the-job injuries. If you suffered a workplace injury, you may be entitled to compensation. Talk to us about your specific situation. We offer free, no-obligation consultations to discuss your case. To speak with one of our highly skilled and experienced Iowa employment attorneys, please call (515) 619-9148 or reach out to us online today.