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When a workplace safety hazard poses an imminent threat

Accidents can occur in any workplace, no matter what sort of hazards are common to any particular environment. An employer has a responsibility to maintain a safe workplace for its employees, but this practically relies on employees and managerial staff to identify potential hazards and report them properly. If an employer does not know of a potential hazard, it is unlikely that the hazard will resolve itself, and it may harm an employee sooner or later.

If you see a hazard in your workplace that poses an imminent threat to you or others, you should report it to your superior immediately. Employers are usually eager to address workplace hazards promptly -- not only to keep workers safe, but also to keep the employer's liability protected. Still, until the hazard gets resolved, you may need to find other work you can perform elsewhere stop work until the employer deals with the hazard.

If an employer learns of the hazard and still expects you to continue to work in unsafe proximity to it, you may have legal grounds to refuse. Employees may legally refuse to perform work in the presence of a serious hazard if:

  • The risks of the hazard are immediate and potentially physically harmful or deadly.
  • The risks are so immediate that there is not time to report the hazard to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • The employer refuses to address the hazard.
  • The employee does not have other work he or she can safely and reasonably perform until the hazard is resolved.

If you find that your employer continues to avoid dealing with the hazard or punishes you for preserving your rights, you may need to take legal action to protect yourself. An experienced attorney can help you assess your experience and identify the legal actions you have available to protect your rights and the safety of others in your workplace.

Source: FindLaw, "Protecting Yourself from Unsafe Working Conditions," accessed Feb. 16, 2018

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