Health and Safety
Is my health and safety protected at work?
Yes. According to California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Cal/OSHA) all employees (except for independent contractors) in California, including undocumented workers, have the right to a safe and healthy working environment. This means employers are required to maintain a workplace free of hazards that they know or should know about and that cause illness, serious injury, or death.
- Guarantees your right to work in a safe and healthy workplace and
- Requires your employer to be responsible for ensuring your safety at work.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforces this act. Federal OSHA covers federal employees.
What are my specific rights to health and safety at my workplace?
You have the right to:
- Get training from your employer about workplace hazards and workers rights in a language you understand.
- Receive protective gear if you work with hazardous or contaminated material.
- Request information on injuries and illnesses in your workplace and information on hazardous substances in your workplace such as material safety data sheets and exposure records.
- Request action from your employer to correct hazards or health and safety violations.
- File a confidential complaint with Cal/OSHA if you believe that there are either violations of Cal/OSHA standards or serious workplace hazards
- File a confidential request for an inspection of your workplace and potentially participate in the walk around
- Find out the results of a Cal/OSHA inspection
- Get involved in any meetings or hearings to discuss any objections your employer has to Cal/OSHA’s citations or to changes in abatement deadlines
- File a formal appeal of deadlines for correction of hazards
- File a Cal/OSHA discrimination or whistleblower complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement
- Request a research investigation on possible workplace health hazards from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- File a petition to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for a new standard
- Participate in developing new standards by joining a Cal/OSHA standards development committee or by providing testimony to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board at a hearing when the board is considering adopting a new standard.
- Refuse to perform unsafe work as long as it is hazardous enough that any reasonable person would think his/her health or safety would be in danger by doing the work.
What kind of information does my employer have to provide me about my rights to health and safety at my workplace?
Your employer has to provide information on safety and health hazards in the workplace and let you know how to protect yourself. At a minimum, each employer has to provide:
- Labels marking all hazardous materials.
- Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s) for all hazardous chemicals.
- Training about safety procedures and about hazards that workers might contact in each job in a language you understand.
- Information about the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred during that year.
- Posting of Cal/OSHA citations at or near the work area involved. Each citation must remain posted until the violation has been corrected, or for three working days, whichever is longer.
- Notification if employees have been exposed to concentrations or levels of hazardous chemicals exceeding the exposure limits set by Cal/OSHA standards.
What can I do if my workplace is unsafe or unhealthy?
- First, talk to your supervisor, manager, safety & health committee or employer about the problem and to ask that it be fixed first. If there is a union, you should also discuss the problem with the local union representative.
- If this conversation does not fix the problem, you may want to seek advice about your rights. You can contact the Division of Occupational Safety & Health office in your area or consult an attorney.
- You should also take and keep careful notes about safety and/or health violations, including times, dates, places, and names.
- You can make an anonymous/confidential request for an inspection of your workplace by the Division of Occupational Safety & Health. You have the right to be told the results of the inspection and to meet with the inspector after the inspection is completed.
- If a citation is issued, your employer will have a specified amount of time to correct the problem (the “abatement period”).
- If you feel the citation does not adequately address the problem, you have 15 days to file an objection.
- You may also file a complaint against your employer for safety or health violations with the state Division of Occupational Safety & Health. It is illegal for your employer to take any action against you for asserting your right.
How do I file a complaint?
You have three options to file your safety and health complaint:
- Online – Go to the Online Complaint Form Written complaints that are signed by workers or their representative and submitted to an OSHA Area or Regional office are more likely to result in onsite OSHA inspections than online complaints.
- Download and Fax/Mail – Download the OSHA complaint form* [En Espanol*] (or request a copy from your local OSHA Regional or Area Office), complete it and then fax or mail it back to your local OSHA Regional or Area Office. Written complaints that are signed by a worker or representative and submitted to the closest OSHA Area Office are more likely to result in onsite OSHA inspections. Include your name, address, and a telephone number at which they can contact you to follow up. This information is confidential.
- Telephone – your local OSHA Regional or Area Office. OSHA staff can discuss your complaint and respond to any questions you have.
If there is an emergency or the hazard is immediately life-threatening, call your local OSHA Regional or Area Office or 1-800-321-OSHA.
What information will I have to provide if I request an inspection or make a complaint?
You must provide enough information for OSHA to determine that a hazard probably exists. You do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated. The following are examples of the type of information that would be useful to OSHA when receiving a complaint. You do not need to know the answer to all of these questions.
- How many employees work at the site and how many are exposed to the hazard?
- How and when are workers exposed?
- What work is performed in the unsafe or unhealthful area?
- What type of equipment is used? Is it in good condition?
- What materials and/or chemicals are used?
- Have employees been informed or trained regarding hazardous conditions?
- What process and/or operation is involved?
- What kinds of work are done nearby?
- How often and for how long do employees work at the task that leads to their exposure?
- How long (to your knowledge) has the condition existed?
- Have any attempts been made to correct the problem?
- On what shifts does the hazard exist?
- Has anyone been injured or made ill as a result of this problem?
- Have there been any “near-miss” incidents?
- Do any employees have any symptoms that they think are caused by the hazardous condition or substance?
- Have any employees been treated by a doctor for a work-related disease or condition? What was it?
What do I do if I am thinking about refusing work because of an unsafe working condition?
- Consult an attorney or OSHA to be sure you will be legally protected.
- Inform your supervisor/manager/employer about the unsafe condition.
- Give your employer a chance to correct it.
- If your employer does not correct the unsafe condition, and you decide to refuse the work, make sure that you inform your supervisor:
- In writing or in front of others,
- Exactly why you are refusing to do the work
- That you will return to work as soon as the condition is fixed.
- You should contact Cal/OSHA to file a complaint against your employer.
What happens if my employer retaliates against me?
Retaliation and/or discrimination against an employee because the employee has filed a Cal/OSHA complaint is illegal under California Labor Code 6310. Depending on the type of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct by the employer, employees have can have as little as 90 days or as much as two years in order to file a claim for retaliation or discrimination. Usually, the form has to be mailed in to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement within six months of the retaliation or discrimination.
In order to file for retaliation or discrimination, there is a specific form that you need to fill out. That form can be downloaded here. Answer all the questions on the form, print it out, sign it with blue or black ink, and date it. Make a copy of the completed form to keep the copy in a safe place for your records. Gather any documents you may have that support your claim of retaliation or discrimination and make copies of them. Keep the originals in a safe place and enclose copies of your supporting documents with your claim form for retaliation or discrimination.
To report retaliation or discrimination where the work was performed in Bakersfield or north of Bakersfield, mail the completed packet by certified mail to the following address:
Division of Labor Standards Enforcement
Retaliation Complaint Investigation Unit
2031 Howe Ave., Ste. 100
Sacramento, CA 95825
To report retaliation where the work was performed in south of Bakersfield, mail the completed packet by certified mail to the following address:
Division of Labor Standards Enforcement
Retaliation Complaint Investigation Unit
605 W. Santa Ana Blvd. Bldg. 28, Room 625
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Depending on the circumstances of the employer’s retaliatory action the time limit that the form needs to be mailed in by in order to preserve the claim varies from as little as 90 days from the retaliatory action up to up to two years after the retaliatory action. Usually it has to be mailed in within six months of the retaliatory action but the form and copies of any documents supporting it should be mailed in sooner rather than later.
To learn more about job safety rules, you may contact the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service.
For more information about job safety:
Consultation service area offices
Cal/OSHA Consultation toll-free number 1-800-963-9424