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Tackling Unsafe Working Conditions: A Guide for Employers and Employees

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), work-related accidents or diseases cause about 2.3 million fatalities globally, every year. This shocking data shows that workplace hazards can cause more than minor injuries or temporary issues, even leading to death if not addressed properly.

So, an unsafe work environment must be urgently reported by employees and addressed by employers to mitigate the risk of such accidents. It is up to employees to report workplace hazards or unsafe working conditions to their superiors. And it is the employer’s responsibility to address their employees’ concerns quickly and effectively and ensure workplace safety for all their employees.

Unsafe working conditions are any physical conditions that make a workplace dangerous for employees to work in. So, any conditions that threaten a worker’s health and safety and make it dangerous for employees to perform their jobs properly are considered unsafe.

In this article, we’ll go into detail about unsafe working conditions with examples of what is considered unsafe. We’ll also cover regulatory compliance related to the work environment, including the rights of employees and duties of employers as outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Regulatory Compliance

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) is a federal law that requires businesses to ensure a safe working environment, free from hazards that can cause illness or injury. The act is enforced by OSHA, which protects employees from work-related injuries, illnesses, and hazards that may cause serious injury or death. OSHA also imposes fines if their safety standards are not followed. 

In addition to these federal government regulations, states may adopt and enforce their own laws related to unsafe working conditions. These regulations define certain rights for employees and duties of employers related to workplace safety, like worker rights and employer duties.

Worker Rights

As a worker, you have a legal right to a healthy and safe workplace. This includes the right to:

  • Receive training and resources concerning OSHA’s safety compliance standards
  • Receive safety equipment like gloves, goggles, etc.
  • Bring unsafe conditions to your employer’s attention and request to perform other duties until the unsafe situation is addressed
  • Report your concerns to OSHA or a relevant state authority if your employer doesn’t address your concerns or you’re in imminent danger (i.e., the conditions could cause immediate serious physical harm)
  • Request an OSHA inspection of your workplace
  • View reports of hazards or threats that an OSHA investigator has found in your workplace
  • Refuse to work in an unsafe environment until the danger is addressed (only applicable if your refusal is in good faith and there is not enough time for the issue to be corrected through regular enforcement channels)

Additionally, the Whistleblower Protection Program prohibits employers from retaliating against you if you report unsafe working conditions. That is, the employer can’t fire or demote you or reduce your pay because you reported your concerns.

Employer Duties

It’s an employer’s duty to protect their workers from unsafe working conditions, and this duty is mandated and regulated by OSHA. As an employer, you should:

  • Keep your workplace free of health and safety hazards
  • Abide by OSHA’s workplace safety standards
  • Post an OSHA job safety notice at the worksite
  • Keep a record of injuries, deaths, and exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Provide safety training to employees and staff

The specific safety standards vary depending on the industry, but they generally include provisions for safe storage of hazardous materials, equipment maintenance, fire protection, and providing protective glasses, headgear, and clothing (where appropriate).

6 Examples of Unsafe Working Conditions

Unsafe working conditions: construction working wearing a harness

To protect your workplace from dangerous working conditions, you need to be able to identify them first. Unsafe working conditions can be classified as general safety hazards, biological hazards, ergonomic hazards, chemical hazards, physical hazards, and work organization hazards. 

Here are six types of hazards to look out for.

1. General Safety Hazards

These can include confined spaces, electrical hazards (e.g., frayed wires or improper wiring), fire hazards, slippery floors or obstacles that can cause trips and falls, and hazards that can cause falls from heights. They can also include:

  • Inadequate or broken warning systems
  • Lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles or helmets
  • Broken machinery or equipment that hasn’t been repaired
  • Machines without guarding (parts that ensure that devices are safe)
  • Using equipment or performing operations without the necessary safety training

2. Ergonomic Hazards

Ergonomic hazards are those that strain your body while working. These can include:

  • Work that requires awkward or repetitive movement
  • Frequent lifting of heavy objects
  • Improperly adjusted workstations
  • Bad lighting

3. Physical or Environmental Hazards

These are aspects of the environment that can cause harm to employees who simply work in the area. These include:

  • Hazardous air conditions, which could cause respiratory issues and other diseases
  • Continuous loud noise
  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays or extreme temperatures
  • Radiation
  • Unsanitary conditions, including clutter (causing other hazards such as tripping)

4. Chemical Hazards

These are when workers are exposed to any dangerous chemical preparation in the workplace in solid, liquid, or gas form. This can include:

  • Cleaning products and solvents that could cause harmful vapors or fumes
  • Flammable materials
  • Chemicals in unlabeled containers
  • Pesticides
  • Gasses such as carbon monoxide, propane, and acetylene
  • Asbestos

5. Biological Hazards

Biological hazards are those that result from working with people, animals, or other organic substances, causing illness or disease. They include:

  • Blood and bodily fluids
  • Animal and bird droppings
  • Bacteria and viruses
  • Mold or fungus
  • Insect bites or stings

6. Work Organization Hazards

Workers watching their colleague leave

These are hazards that cause short- and long-term effects such as mental health issues (e.g., stress) or workplace conflict. They can include:

  • Intense or fast-paced work without balance
  • Lack of breaks
  • Sexual harassment
  • Workplace violence or bullying
  • Workplace discrimination

While not exhaustive, this list can work as a starting point for you. Employees must keep their eyes open and report such hazards to their superiors immediately. Employers, on their part, must take such reports seriously and fix safety hazards before they can cause incidents.

How to Report Unsafe Working Conditions

If you identify or notice unsafe working conditions or any hazards that cause you concern, you need to report it right away to prevent it from causing you or your colleagues a serious injury. Here’s how you can tackle the issue:

Report It to Your Employer

Before complaining to OSHA or going through legal channels, it’s a good idea to try to get your concerns addressed internally. Report the hazard or unsafe condition to your supervisor or manager. The issue may have simply been overlooked, so reporting it would cause your boss to take a look and fix the situation quickly and efficiently.

If your immediate superiors don’t take your concerns seriously, you could file a formal complaint through your company’s human resources (HR) department. This would especially work if you’re in a larger company with a structured (and perhaps anonymous) complaint process.

Reach Out to OSHA

If your employer does not take your concerns seriously, you can file a complaint with your local OSHA office. While reporting the issue, make sure to follow OSHA’s guidelines. Remember that you don’t need to know what safety regulation is being violated as all safety concerns are worth noting.

You can submit a complaint in several ways:

  • Fill out an online form which will get directed automatically to the regional OSHA office
  • Download the form and mail or fax it to the nearest regional office (include your contact details so that OSHA can reach out if they need further information)
  • Call your local OSHA office (especially if it’s an emergency or if the hazard poses imminent danger)
  • Visit your local OSHA office to discuss your complaint directly with the staff

Participate in the Inspection

Unsafe working conditions: construction worker writing on a document

Reporting an issue to OSHA would typically lead to an in-person inspection by OSHA. You can meet with the inspector privately or participate in the inspection itself (which would allow you to highlight your concern areas properly). You can also ask OSHA to keep your identity private.

At the end of the inspection, the OSHA inspector will share their findings with the employer and determine what steps must be taken to correct the issues. If there are any willful violations of OSHA’s standards, the employer may face hefty fines. You are entitled to ask for the inspection report and find out the results of the inspection.

Track Unsafe Working Conditions Better With an Online Platform

If you’re an employer with a lot on your plate, it can be difficult to keep track of every concern reported to you. Trying to do the work manually may lead you to overlook even important and urgent hazards, which could cause serious injuries or lead to compliance issues and hefty fines.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to take some of the burden off your shoulders and automate the process with a reliable platform like Pulpstream. With our easy-to-use, no-code software, you can create a space for your employees to report their concerns (anonymized or not, depending on their preference), set up automated alerts or reminders so that the concerns remain top of mind, and use sophisticated analytics capabilities to prioritize the issues to address and track trends.

Ensure a safer workplace today with Pulpstream. Request a demo for free!