OSHA Rights Information

Wed. December 02, 2009

You have a right to a safe and healthful workplace.

That's why Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, requiring employers to provide workplaces free from serious recognized hazards and to comply with occupational safety and health standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wants every worker to go home whole and healthy every day. The agency was created by Congress to help protect workers by setting and enforcing workplace safety and health standards and by providing safety and health information, training and assistance to workers and employers.

Are you covered by OSHA?

If you work in the private sector, you are covered by an OSHA regional office under federal OSHA or an OSHA program operated by your state government. Public sector workers in states that run their own OSHA programs are covered by those states. Public sector workers are not covered in states under federal OSHA jurisdiction.

State OSHA Programs

The Occupational Safety and Health Act authorizes states to establish their own safety and health programs with OSHA approval. Twenty-three states operate state OSHA programs covering private sector workers as well as state and local government employees. (In addition, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey cover state and local government employees only). State OSHA programs must be at least as effective as the federal program and provide similar protections for workers. Some states set their own standards; others adopt federal rules. All state programs conduct inspections and respond to worker complaints. All states also provide other safety and health services, such as on-site consultation for small businesses.

Federal Employees


Federal workers are covered by their agencies. By Presidential Executive Order, federal agencies must maintain an effective safety and health program that meets the same standard as private employers. But federal agencies cannot be fined for violating health and safety standards, except for the U.S. Postal Service, which now falls directly under OSHA's jurisdiction and is treated as a private employer.

What are your rights under OSHA?

The OSH Act grants workers important rights. Workers have a vital role to play in identifying and correcting problems in their workplaces, working with their employers whenever possible. Often, employers will promptly correct hazardous conditions called to their attention. But workers also can complain to OSHA about workplace conditions threatening their health or safety. They can file complaints   in person, by telephone, by fax, by mail or electronically through this website.

What are workers' responsibilities?

OSHA requires workers to comply with all safety and health standards that apply to their actions on the job. Employees should:

  • Read the OSHA poster.
  • Follow the employer's safety and health rules and wear or use all required gear and equipment.
  • Follow safe work practices for your job, as directed by your employer.
  • Report hazardous conditions to a supervisor or safety committee.
  • Report hazardous conditions to OSHA, if employers do not fix them.

What are employer's responsibilities?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace free of recognized hazards and to follow OSHA standards. Employer's responsibilities   also include providing training, medical examinations and recordkeeping.

What is an OSHA standard?

OSHA issues standards or rules to protect workers against many hazards on the job. These standards limit the amount of hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to, require the use of certain safety practices and equipment, and require employers to monitor hazards and maintain records of workplace injuries and illnesses. Employers can be cited and fined if they do not comply with OSHA standards. It is also possible for an employer to be cited under  OSHA's General Duty Clause, which requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards. This clause is generally cited when no OSHA standard applies to the hazard.

What can you do if you think your workplace is unsafe?

If you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthy, we recommend that you bring the conditions to your employer's attention, if possible. Your employer may want to contact OSHA or your state consultation service  in order to gather information about how to improve working conditions.

You may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. However, you should not leave the worksite merely because you have filed a complaint. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, you have brought the condition to the attention of your employer, you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard.

You may file a complaint with OSHA if you believe there may be a violation of an OSHA standard or a serious safety or health hazard at work. You may request that your name not be revealed to your employer. You can file a complaint on this web site, in writing or by telephone to the nearest OSHA area office. You may also call the office and speak with an OSHA compliance officer about a hazard, violation, or the process for filing a complaint.

Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by half. Occupational injury and illness rates have been declining for the past six years, dropping in 1998 to the lowest level on record. But there is much more to do. Nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week and almost 17 die each day. Federal and state OSHA programs have only about 2,500 inspectors to cover 100 million workers at six million worksites. Workers must play an active role in spotting workplace hazards and asking their employers to correct them.

Can you be punished or discriminated against for exercising your rights?

The OSH Act and other laws protect workers who complain to their employer, union, OSHA or other government agencies about unsafe or unhealthy conditions in the workplace or environmental problems. You cannot be transferred, denied a raise, have your hours reduced, be fired, or punished in any other way because you have exercised any right afforded to you under the OSH Act. Help is available from OSHA for whistleblowers. But, complaints about discrimination must be filed as soon as possible–within 30 days of the alleged reprisal for most complaints.

Has your employer ever been inspected by OSHA?

You can research your employer's inspection history through OSHA's Establishment Search. Type in the name of your company and choose the dates you want to cover.

What is the most commonly cited hazard in your industry?

You'll need to know your employer's Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code. Once you know your four-digit code, visit OSHA's Frequently Cited OSHA Standards  page, enter your SIC code and view the information for last year.

Does OSHA provide technical information on hazards?

OSHA provides technical information to assist workers, employers, and safety and health professionals in reducing occupational injuries and illnesses. Find information on blood borne pathogens, machine guarding, ergonomics or fall protection, for example.

What materials does OSHA have of interest to workers?

OSHA publishes a variety of publications on a range of subjects. The agency also offers free software advisors  to help employers comply with OSHA standards. Some of the most useful publications for workers are listed below. See OSHA Publications  for a complete listing of agency printed materials or to order publications online.

All About OSHA
Chemical Hazard Communication 
Employee Workplace Rights 
Guidelines For Preventing Workplace Violence For Health Care and Social Service Workers
Hearing Conservation
Heat Stress Card
English / Spanish 
How To Prepare For Workplace Emergencies
Job Safety & Health Protection Poster 
OSHA Fact Sheets
OSHA Inspections
Personal Protective Equipment 
Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments

What other rights do workers have?

Other federal agencies protect worker's rights also. Visit the websites at the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, or the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to learn more about other protections for workers.