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Can I refuse to work under unsafe conditions?

As a worker in California, you have a number of protections available under the law that guarantee you do not have to do work that is unreasonably unsafe. This holds true regardless of your field of employment. No matter what kind of job you have, there are regulations provided by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that dictate the safe, proper way to do that job, and your employer cannot ask you to work outside of those accepted conditions. If you believe that your workplace is unsafe and does not meet OSHA safety standards, then you have the right to refuse hazardous work.

First, you must make sure that the work you refuse to do meets two conditions. Performing that work must violate a specific OSHA regulation and that violation must actually create a "real and apparent hazard."

If your job meets these conditions, you can refuse to perform work with the protection of the law against retaliation from your employer. However, your duty does not end there, and you should not simply leave the work site. You should also alert your supervisor to the specific dangerous violation and express that you believe that it is a violation of safety regulations. You should also express that you are willing to continue working once the violation is corrected and that you will do other work that does not involve the violation.

These matters may seem simple on paper, but understanding how to implement your rights on the work site in day-to-day circumstances ca be very difficult. It is not always easy to stand up for safety on the job, especially if there is a certain degree of danger in your job to begin with.

No matter what the details of your work may be, you deserve and should demand a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace benefits both workers and employers, and when you stand up for your own safety, you are standing up for others' safety, too. Of course, you don't have to fight this fight alone. With the guidance of an experienced attorney, you can rest assured that your rights remain protected and your employment remains secure.

Source: Law Office of Rockwell Kelly & Duarte LLP, "Workplace Injuries," accessed April 27, 2017

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