Keeping the Workplace Safe
Every employer in California has the legal obligation to provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for employees, according to the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973. Sounds great in theory, but the reality is that the workplace can often be a minefield for disaster. Consider these statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):
- From 1980 to 1998 workplace incidents involving machinery were ranked third after motor vehicle accidents and homicide as the cause of death.
- More than 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job, and an additional nine million are at risk for hearing loss from other agents, such as solvents and metals.
- The construction industry employs only about eight percent of U.S. workers, but accounts for 22 percent of the fatalities—the largest number for any industry.
- Each day about 2,000 workers in the United States have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment.
“As Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury attorneys, we are well aware of the negative effects an unsafe or unhealthy work environment has on employees,” says Adam Dombchik, a partner in the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein.
“Many of the injuries could be avoided if employers and employees took a more proactive stance regarding workplace safety and health. Employees need to report unsafe conditions and employers need to remedy the problem with appropriate changes.”
Turning dangerous conditions into safe work areas is the goal of the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH). This organization is a coalition of local union, community group, health and legal advocates working to organize, educate and advocate for safe workplaces.
“We have partnered with SoCalCOSH for many years because we believe in their mission and support their commitment to workers in Southern California,” Dombchik explains.
“Change begins with workers speaking up and to each other about conditions that pose a threat to their health and welfare,” says Pete Greyshock, SoCalCOSH Coordinator. “But this may be easier said than done as many employees have a fear of retaliation.”
Greyshock is quick to cite OSHA’s Section 11(c), which prohibits retaliation by employers against workers who "blow the whistle" by exposing health and safety hazards. Workers who believe they were unfairly treated because they complained about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions can file a complaint with OSHA.
If you believe that there is a health or safety danger in your workplace, Greyshock suggests you consider filing a complaint with Cal/OSHA (California’s state OSHA program). During the initial evaluation of a complaint, Cal/OSHA staff will look for the following information. Greyshock advises that you include each point in your complaint:
- Name, address, and telephone number of the complaint author.
- A detailed description of the hazard in the workplace.
- Names of employees injured by the presence of the hazard in the workplace.
- Names of employees with symptoms caused by the hazard. Also identify any employees who have received medical attention due to the presence of the hazard.
- Provide a detailed description of the type of work performed at your jobsite.
- Describe the type of equipment, machines, chemicals or materials that you use on the job and what condition they are in.
- How often and for how long do you and/or others perform the type of work that is the basis of the complaint?
- How long has the hazardous working condition existed? Has the hazard been referred to the supervisor or management? If so, have they taken any action to abate the hazard?
- How many shifts are there at your workplace and what time does each one start? During which shifts is the hazard present?
- How many employees are there in the workplace and how many have been
exposed to the hazard?
- If applicable, identify a union or worker representative and provide his or her name, address, and phone number.
- Provide photos, diagrams, workplace maps, medical records, testimonies, or any
other information that you believe will help Cal/OSHA in its investigation.
- A determination if the complaint is “formal” or “non-formal,” “serious” or
If you would like to learn more about how Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein protects the rights of those who have suffered serious injuries on or off the job, please call us at 213-739-7000.