It is very important to know how to report OSHA violations. Anyone may file a complaint alleging workplace hazards to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Employees must not take the registration of an OSHA violation complaint lightly. As some companies may respond with legal action. Your legal right to uphold a complaint could take years if you have been dismissed or reprimanded.
Before opting to report OSHA violations, a few factors need to be taken into account. Deciding to request an inspection as a response to an OSHA violation is a hard step. However, if there is a clearly defined workplace hazard, this may be the best option. While OSHA has regulations in place for most workplace hazards, employees remain unprotected against others. OSHA may issue a “General Duty Clause” citation for otherwise undefined hazards. However, doing so has its own complications. So banking on OSHA may not always be the best way to deal with workplace safety issues.
If part of a union, you should contact it before filing an OSHA Violation complaint. It can file the complaint on your behalf and protect you from retribution. However, if you are not a member, you should consult your colleagues. This way, you will be sharing the burden with others too.
OSHA determines its response to violations by:
- Who is the complainant? An employee’s complaint will be given more weight than one from a bystander.
- Nature of the complaint. Complaints concerned with life and death matters will be prioritized over those about book-keeping errors.
When we talk about how to report OSHA violations, the whistleblower plays an important role. A whistleblower is a person who uncovers unlawful, illegal, or unsafe information or behavior, fraud, or abuse of taxpayer money. Whistleblowers can choose to do so internally or publicly. If you publicly expose an OSHA violation, you can seek assistance from OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Employers face legal consequences for violating anti-retaliation regulations. They will also face intense media scrutiny in this situation.
Employers who make an OSHA violation may be liable for back pay and other compensatory penalties. Additionally, they will also have to pay for costs incurred as a result of an OSHA investigation. Repeat offenders may face civil fines ranging from $10,000 to $135,000. In extreme cases, criminal charges can be levied if any violations result in casualties.
It is a common misconception that employees can invoke the First Amendment in whistleblowing cases. As it only covers against government reprisals for exercising free speech. However, this does not absolve private employers of all responsibility.
Where to File OSHA Violation Complaints
Complainants can file complaints in person by visiting an OSHA Area Office nearest to the concerned workplace. These offices are located throughout the country. Even if you fail to go to the correct Area Office, OSHA will direct the complaint to the designated Area Office. They can also file complaints online and through fax, mail, email, and telephone.
OSHA prioritizes some complaints over others. So the way a complaint is filed becomes very important. To begin with, there should be concrete evidence of malpractice. Ideally, there should be some sort of audio/visual or other forms of documented evidence, like emails or official letters. You should communicate the complaint clearly. OSHA should clearly know the correct offense and offenders. So it can take action against the intended offense and intenders. OSHA will prioritize your complaint if you follow this procedure.
You can give OSHA your identity or register your OSHA violation complaint anonymously, whether you do it on paper, over the phone, or online. OSHA will classify an anonymous complaint as a complaint from an outsider. So it will not prioritize it as highly as other complaints. However, OSHA does not completely ignore anonymous complaints. So if you feel revealing your identity will threaten your safety, you should file an anonymous complaint.
How to Address an OSHA Violation Complaint
The better you present your case, the more likely you are to receive a favorable response as with other official forms and letters. Although you may use an OSHA complaint form, it is not necessary. If you want to file it with a firm, it contains a list of all the questions on the form, along with explanatory notes.
- Employer name — make sure you type out your employer’s complete name, without abbreviations.
- Site location — the workplace’s street address, including ZIP code. This is the address where an OSHA inspector will arrive, so tell them where the inspector should enter to see the hazard.
- Mailing address (if different) — in case the company receives mail at a different address than the site location address.
- A member of management — Fill in the name of any safety engineers or industrial hygienists on the job. If not, provide OSHA with the site manager’s name or the highest-ranking company official on the job. Leave it blank if you’re unsure who to nominate, and the inspector will ask for the “person in charge.”
- Type of business — OSHA focuses on certain industries for special attention, and an inspector may wish to examine the hazards of your industry before an inspection.
If you are an authorized representative of affected employees, you should mention the name of the organization you represent.
OSHA divides all complaints into two categories, inspection complaints, and investigative complaints. After receiving a complaint, OSHA inspectors will always visit the workplace. OSHA will always contact the employer after conducting an investigation. It will then detail the complaint, and provide recommendations for correcting it. Employers can either deny a problem exists or claim that they are addressing it. They get 5 days to submit their response.