The Laws of Workplace Safety – Pt. 1

This page details the California laws that keep employees safe at work. If you want to know the basics regarding Cal-OSHA regulations that apply to your job, this post will give you the details that you are looking for. The above video was created by California employment lawyer, Branigan Robertson. You can watch it on this page, or click here to view it on YouTube.

This is Part 1 of a four-part series that Mr. Robertson made on workplace safety.

Once Mr. Robertson finishes filming each video, he will come back to this post and insert a link so you can jump to the video that is most helpful for you. But you should watch them in order as each one lays a foundation that is key to understanding the next one.

We Will Answer the Following Questions:

These videos are made to answer the seven most common questions lawyers get about workplace safety, including the following:

  1. What laws protect the safety of workers?
  2. What are your rights if your employer is breaking OSHA’s laws?
  3. How should you report unsafe conditions?
  4. Who do you report to: HR, your boss, or OSHA?
  5. How much money can you win if you get fired for reporting safety violations?
  6. What happens if you get hurt on the job?
  7. How do you get compensated for the time off work following an injury?

Stay tuned for more information!

Workplace Safety, The Big Picture

In the early days of the American workplace there were precious few laws in place to protect the health and safety of employees. If an employee died in a workplace accident, the employer simply hired a replacement worker and moved on. Thankfully, things are different today. In 1970 the Federal Government passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which established workplace protections for employees nationwide. States like California added additional safety regulations to the federal regulations (hence Cal-OSHA). The basic directives underpinning OSHA are known as the General Duties. These include:

  1. Every employer is legally required to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious harm to its employees.
  2. Every employer is legally obligated to comply with OSHA safety standards set forth by the Secretary of Labor (29USC §59(a)).

Cal-OSHA General Duties take things further and provide more specific protections for California employees. These duties include the following:

  1. Every employer is obligated to furnish safe & healthful employment to its workers.
  2. Employers must do everything reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety, and health of employees.
  3. Employers shall use safety devices and use methods reasonably adequate to render employment safe.

Employers are not allowed to require an employee to go to an unsafe workplace (CA Labor Code §§6400-6404).

What Types of Safety Is Covered

OSHA regulations primarily seek to prevent physical workplace injuries. OSHA does not seek to directly regulate psychological safety stemming from bullying and harassment.  There will be more discussion on psychological safety later in this series, but you can view Branigan’s video on on workplace bullying and harassment if you feel this might address your issue more specifically.

OSHA does regulate issues related to physical workplace violence. Employees who experience or are aware of occurrences of workplace violence should notify their employer about potential physical violence.

Safety for All Industries

OSHA regulations were designed to cover all industries—from small startups space to sprawling factories. And whether you work at a desk or operate a milling machine, your employer must provide some basic safety considerations. These include:

  • Disaster planning (alarm systems, escape routes, emergency procedure, etc.)
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Ergonomic equipment
  • Hazardous substance disclosure 
  • Maintaining a smoke free environment (no tobacco products)Heat mitigation (we get a lot of calls about office heat issues)

Safety for Specific Industries & Activities

OSHA provides regulations for a vast range of specific industries. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to publish the complete list in this post—it could cover a novel sized tome. Suffice it to say OSHA has rules for just about any industry or activity you can imagine. If you work in an industry where you think safety violations might be occurring, you can always spend a little time reviewing information on your specific industry on OSHA’s website. Activities and equipment effected by OSHA regulations include: 

  • Ladders
  • Stairways
  • Power tools
  • Forklifts
  • Sanitation
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Toxic substance handling and disposal (lead, asbestos, chemicals, aerosols, etc.)
  • Ventilation
  • Textiles
  • WoodworkingMany others

What Are Your Rights in an Unsafe Environment?

This series on workplace safety will get deeper into employee rights in subsequent videos and blog posts. But employees have the right to the following:

  • To refuse to do unsafe work. This right exists if two conditions are met. First, the work being requested would violate OSHA regulation (such as the General Duties). Secondly, the violation would create a real hazard to you or your coworkers.
  • To report violations to the proper authority without fear of retaliation.
  • To receive written information on hazards at the workplace.

When the Employer Doesn’t Follow the General Duties

Our office fields thousands of calls every year from folks who believe their employers are violating safety laws. These callers are eager to get justice, and they are eager to sue. In some cases, they let their emotions get the better of them and end up making a bad situation worse.  We must explain that there are a few things that must happen before a lawsuit can be considered—and a single safety violation often isn’t enough. It’s important that you continue watching this video series to get a broader picture of what it takes to hold an unsafe employer accountable.

When to Call an Attorney

If you believe that your employer has violated Cal-OSHA regulations, or if you have been terminated after reporting safety violations, call our office. Branigan does not charge for the consultation process. If he determines that you have a case worth pursuing, he generally represents clients on a contingency basis.  This means the client pays for his services from a portion of the settlement or judgment at the conclusion of the case. 

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