Workers put their trust in their employers and hope that the company they work for will do what it takes to ensure that all employees safely return home after every work day. Unfortunately, some employers are negligent and not committed to the safety of their employees as they ought to be. Fortunately, the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 (Cal/OSHA) protects California workers from unsafe working conditions. As stipulated by Cal/OSHA, employers must provide their employees with a safe and healthful place of employment. This means that employees are entitled to a working area that is free from danger to safety, health, and life of the employee as permitted by the nature of employment.
Cal/OSHA aims to improve and protect the health and safety of virtually every employee in California. It also sets and enforces standards, provides education, outreach and assistance, and also issues approvals, licenses, permits, registrations, and certifications. The intent of Cal/OSHA is to protect workers (independent contractors not included) from one-time injuries, known hazards that may cause serious injury or death, and diseases caused by unsafe health conditions in the workplace. Cal/OSHA is a state law similar to its federal counterpart; OSHA.
While the provisions of Cal/OSHA were meant to be more comprehensive than federal OSHA, the federal law provisions will still protect workers in the event that Cal/OSHA’s provisions fall short. Under the Cal/OSHA, employers are required to provide a safe and secure environment for their workers. For this reason, an employee has the right to file a report with Cal/OSHA if the employer fails to live up to the safety requirements. Cal/OSHA also conducts investigations of the cause of workplace accidents that cause a serious injury or illness, inpatient hospitalization or three or more employees, a fatal injury to one or more employees, or a serious exposure.
Regardless of whether you spend 40 hours a week in a construction site or work in an office, the nature of your job duties and the conditions of your workplace may contribute to significant psychological, emotional, physical strain over time. Unsafe working conditions can cause damages from broken limbs to wrongful death. If you or a loved has experienced an unsafe working environment in California, it may be in your best interest to seek a workplace safety attorney who has a long history of fighting unsafe working conditions. The seasoned attorneys at Stop Unpaid Wages are committed to representing California workers and defending their rights. If you feel your workplace injury was due to your employer’s negligence and unsafe working condition, we can help. Contact us today for a free confidential consultation and case review.
Unsafe and Hazardous Working Conditions
An unsafe work environment is an environment where an employee is subjected to health and safety risks on a nearly daily basis. This means that they often have to face the possibility of serious injuries or death while fulfilling while working, which can affect them emotionally as they perform their job. Many workers feel like they are at the mercy of their employer and therefore endure continued mistreatment because they are often unaware of their rights as employees. This should not be the case. As an employee, you have the right to stand up to your boss and even refuse work if the conditions at your workplace make it unsafe to perform your job duties. You can also refuse to work until the situation is addressed and corrected. To help you understand what makes a workplace unsafe, we’ve classified and provided examples of unsafe working conditions that you may encounter:
Physical Hazards: Physical hazards are created by factors in the environment that can cause bodily harm. This can include things like extremely high or low temperatures, radiation, and long exposure under the sun.
Biological Hazards: A biological hazard is one that comes from working with animals, plants, and people. Things like mold, bodily fluids, animal droppings, insect bites, and bacteria can all create an unsafe working environment. These hazards can make an employee sick, or leave them with a condition that needs extensive and expensive treatment.
Ergonomic Hazards: Ergonomic hazards occur when a worker is exposed to continual, repetitive motions that cause short-term strain or long-term damage to the body. Some of these hazards include frequently working with vibrating tools, lifting heavy objects, prolonged periods of typing, poor posture, or awkward movements. These kinds of hazards can create chronic conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back injuries, arthritis, or a hernia.
Chemical Hazards: Chemical hazards are present any time a worker is exposed to a harsh chemical, whether it’s a liquid, solid, or gas. Chemical products can include vapors and fumes, cleaning products and solvents, flammable materials, gasoline, carbon monoxide, asbestos, and more. These chemicals can cause lung damage, skin irritation, or severe illness. They typically occur when workers are not provided with proper safety equipment to mitigate the effects of harsh chemicals.
Safety Hazards: This form of hazard creates conditions that can cause direct injury to employees. Common workplace safety hazards include things such as closed spaces, damages flooring, wet floors, faulty or damaged equipment or machinery, and damaged electrical wiring.
Workload Hazards: Stress is the most significant factor when it comes to workload hazards in the workplace. Workplace safety can be undermined if a worker is put in an environment that causes significant stress. For instance, conflicts with coworkers, heavy workload, witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, and working on short deadlines can lead to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic disorder.
Who is Covered by Cal/OSHA?
Most workplaces in California are covered Cal/OSHA regulation, which are equal to or more protective than federal OSHA regulations. Workers of any business are covered by Cal/OSHA or OSHA regulations. However, Cal/OSHA regulations do not apply to immediate family members running their own business without outside employees, independent contractors, self-employed individuals, or workplaces covered by another government safety agency, such as airlines covered by the Federal Aviation Administration or mines covered by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Cal/OSHA Workplace Safety Standards
Under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act employers must ensure that the working environment for their workers is safe and secure. However, many individuals who work in environments that are not in line with workplace safety requirements are unaware of this fact, and they get in touch with our legal team asking what their rights are and the options they have in resolving their case. At Stop Unpaid Wages, we often recommend that clients ensure that they report a hazard to their employer before taking any formal legal action. The employer is required to investigate near-miss incidents to identify causes and measures that should be put in place to prevent or minimize accidents from occurring in the future. Investigations must be documented in writing. But if a worker has notified the employee and still no corrective measures have been put in place to correct the situation, then one can file a report to Cal/OSHA. Cal/OSHA is California’s body that ensures that employers provide a safe environment for workers. Employers are required to:
- Provide a safe workplace free from all forms of hazards that may significantly affect the health of workers
- Provide and maintain all necessary safety equipment to reduce the likelihood of injury
- Provide thorough and adequate safety training to all their workers
- Provide employees with information on illnesses, injuries, and hazardous substances in the workplace, including exposure records and material safety data sheets
- Establish and maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program
- Establish or update operating procedures
- Inspect workplaces to identify and correct hazardous and unsafe conditions in the workplace
- Use labels, posters, signs, or color codes to warn employees about potential hazards
- Post Cal/OSHA posters informing employees of their rights and responsibilities in a noticeable location within the workplace
- Maintain fire alarms and warning systems
- Provide medical examinations when required by Cal/OSHA standards
- Immediately report any serious illness, injury, or death of a worker
- Track and keep detailed reports of work-related injuries and illnesses
Employees must also comply with Cal/OSHA standards, rules, and regulations, such as using the required personal protective equipment while performing their job duties.
Safety Hazards that Pose an Imminent Danger
An employee can refuse to work if they perceive that workplace hazards place their health or life in imminent danger. The employees are also required to report the dangerous condition to OSHA. In such situations, California employers cannot fire employees in retaliation for reporting hazards nor can they fire workers for refusing to work when the working conditions pose an imminent danger. Employment law may consider these as acts of wrongful termination. California has workplace safety laws to prevent workplace accidents and protect employee rights. One of the most important laws addresses the rights of California workers to refuse to work in unsafe conditions that present an “imminent danger” to their wellbeing. Simply put, employees can choose not to go to work if their health and safety is at risk. An employee may refuse to work when:
- The immediacy of the danger does not allow enough time to report the unsafe working conditions to Cal/OSHA
- The worker has a reasonable and good faith belief that the condition he or she is being asked to work in poses an immediate and substantial risk of death or serious physical injury
- Even if the safety issue is called to its attention, the employer will not fix the dangerous condition
- The worker is not offered reasonable and safer alternatives
The employee can refuse to work without putting their job at risk until the employer investigates and determines there’s no imminent danger or until the employer eliminates the danger.
When Safety Hazards Do Not Create the Risk of Imminent Danger
If an unsafe working condition does not pose an imminent danger, you are required to formally inform your employer of the condition in writing. Conversely, you can file a complaint with OSHA if your employer fails to take reasonable actions in correcting the condition. Cal/OSHA regulations prohibit an employer from firing or retaliating against a worker that reports a violation. For this reason, an employer cannot demote, fire, or reduce a worker’s pay for filing a complaint with Cal/OSHA.
What to Do if You Work in an Unsafe Environment
If you’re forced to work in unsafe working conditions where there is an imminent danger to you or your coworkers, you may be able to bring a lawsuit against your employer. Also, you can still file a report with Cal/OSHA about the unsafe work environment you’ve been exposed to even if the conditions did not lead to a workplace accident at that time. In the event that you are terminated for refusing work while waiting for an investigation by your employer or a response from Cal/OSHA, you have the right to file a claim for medical expenses the hazards may have caused, loss of wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and a potential loss of future earnings.
Suing an employer for facilitating and failing to correct an unsafe work environment can be a confusing process. While you have every right to file a lawsuit and represent yourself in court, seeking legal advice and representation would be your best bet at improving your chances of getting compensation for damages. Your employer probably understands the law better than you and will hire a strong team of attorneys to face you off. The best way to avoid this is by hiring an experienced California workplace safety attorney.
One of the first steps in filing a successful lawsuit is collecting substantial evidence that supports your case. This can take the form of:
- Medical records that detail the damages caused by the unsafe conditions
- Photographs that display the hazard
- Eyewitness accounts from coworkers and customers
- Video footage from security cameras detailing workplace incidents
The next step after collecting your evidence is proving your employer’s negligence in failing to remedy a work hazard and showing how the negligent actions directly led to your injuries. Here are the essential elements in workplace safety lawsuits against an employer:
- The plaintiff (the injured worker) bears the burden of establishing that the defendant (employer) owed the worker a legal duty under the specific circumstances of the case.
- The plaintiff must show that his or her injuries were caused by the defendant’s actions or lack thereof
- The worker must prove that the employer’s actions or failure to act appropriately breached the said legal duty
- The plaintiff must show that the employer’s actions or lack thereof led to some specific damages
Gathering the necessary evidence and filing a claim is just a small section of a much greater legal process. Many workers who decide to do this on their own usually find themselves overwhelmed by the legal complexities and burden posed by such cases. For this reason, you should strive to seek legal guidance from an experienced unsafe workplace conditions attorney as this can spell the difference between filing a successful suit against your employer or having your case dismissed.
Serious and Willful Misconduct Compensation
All businesses in California are obligated by law to have workers compensation insurance. Employers cannot, however, purchase insurance to cover for their serious and willful misconduct. It can also be difficult to cover explicit misconduct, especially if the employee is permanently disabled or is under the age of 16. And since employees have legitimate expectations for safe working conditions, serious and willful that causes an accident may be compensable. In other words, employers found liable for injuries, illnesses, or death caused by egregious or intentional misconduct may be ordered to pay workers compensation benefits that are 10,000 more or equal to 50 percent, whichever is less, of the amount of legal fees, medical treatment expenses, and permanent or temporary disability benefits. If your employer unreasonably refuses or delays workers compensation insurance benefits or fails to provide safe working conditions, they are violating your worker rights. Your workplace safety attorney will explore the possibility of a lawsuit against your employer.
Cal/OSHA Whistleblower Protections
While there are multiple state and federal laws protecting the rights of whistleblowers, there’s a section of California Labor Code that is designed to specifically protect those who report safety and health violations in the workplace. This law also protects individuals who point out safety violations to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. A whistleblower is an individual who provides information to a person of authority, a law enforcement agency, or a government agency regarding hazardous or unsafe working environments. When filing a complaint with Cal/OSHA, the employee must reasonably believe that he or she is disclosing information connected to a violation of state or federal law as well as unsafe practices or conditions at the workplace.
Under Labor Code 6310 LC, an employer cannot fire, discipline, discriminate against, or retaliate against an employee for refusing to work in or reporting hazardous and unhealthful working conditions. LC 6310 also states that an employer is guilty of a misdemeanor if they refuse to rehire a worker after terminating them for engaging in Cal/OSHA whistleblower activity.
If fired or retaliated against for reporting unsafe working conditions, you have up to three years from the time of the retaliatory act to file a whistleblower OSHA suit.
Here’s an example of an OSHA retaliation case:
Ron works for a large mining company. In recent weeks, there have been small tunnel fires that have broken out when Ron is at work. Although there have been no injuries, there are concerns about the malfunction causing the fires and the safety equipment to extinguish such fires. Ron believes that condition at the mine poses an imminent danger to the workers’ lives. The mine’s manager instructs the workers not to expose the situation at the mine as they figure out a solution. Ron tells his supervisor that he is planning to complain to Cal/OSHA. He proceeds with filing a complaint but shortly after, he receives a notice that there will be job cuts and his position is being eliminated. As it turns out, Ron was the only person whose position was eliminated and he believed that he was just experiencing retaliation for reporting the mine’s unsafe operating practices. In this case, Ron might be entitled to compensation for damages.
The state of California has a strong interest in protecting whistleblowers so as to encourage all employees to file formal complaints when they believe they’re working in unhealthful and unsafe environments. The goal is to ensure that all workplaces are safe.
Finding a Workplace Safety Attorney Near Me
You should not have to work in an unsafe environment, nor should every working day be a constant threat to your safety and wellbeing. And if you’ve suffered an injury or illness as a result of unsafe working conditions, you do not have to deal with the medical expenses and other financial issues on your own. You have every right to fail a claim if your employer failed to obey safety laws or correct a workplace hazard. At Stop Unpaid Wages, our well-versed workplace safety attorneys can guide you through the process of collecting the necessary evidence, filing a claim, negotiating with your employer, and reaching the settlement that you deserve. We can help you recover:
- Lost income and lost future earnings due to permanent disability or long-term recovery resulting from the accident
- All of your medical and hospitalization expenses
- All of your future medical needs related to the injuries
- Compensable non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, PSTD resulting from the accident, anxiety, and trauma
The California workplace safety attorneys at Stop Unpaid Wages are well-versed with California employment law and the legal duties of employers when it comes to ensuring the safety of their employees. When you retain our services, you can be sure that we’ll do everything possible to get you the compensation you need. To learn more about workplace safety or to discuss your case with an experienced attorney, contact a Stop Unpaid Wages attorney today at 424-781-8411 for a free, confidential consultation.