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Can I refuse to work if my workplace is unreasonably dangerous?

While most jobs present some sort of danger that should be avoided, sometimes a condition exists in the workplace that is unreasonably dangerous and needs to be fixed. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act addresses what must be done to keep a workplace safe, and what a worker can do if their workplace is unreasonably unsafe. Workers in California can benefit from understanding their rights under OSHA, so they can determine what they can do to make their workplace safe.

What are my employer’s responsibilities under OSHA?

Per OSHA, employers have a duty to keep their workplace safe for employees. This means:

  • Keeping the workplace free from serious hazards;
  • Complying with OSHA standards, rules and regulations;
  • Frequently inspecting workplace conditions;
  • Ensuring workers have safe tools and equipment to use;
  • Placing color codes, labels and posters in the workplace warning of possible dangers;
  • Ensuring operating procedures are up-to-date and that employers are informed of these procedures;
  • Providing employees with appropriate, understandable safety training; and
  • Executing a written hazard communication program regarding hazardous chemicals and train workers on the proper handling of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

This list of requirements is not all-exhaustive. Employers in California have duties per OSHA not listed here.

Can I refuse to work if my workplace is unreasonably dangerous?

Under OSHA, if your workplace is unsafe or threatens your health, you can file a complaint with OSHA and bring the matter to the attention of your employer. However, sometimes a workplace is unreasonably dangerous even after notifying your employer of the dangerous condition. If your workplace presents a risk of death or serious physical injury even after notifying your employer and the matter is so immediate that there is not enough time for an OSHA inspection, then a worker may have the right to refuse to work until the situation is addressed. However, it is essential that you notify your area OSHA office and seek legal advice before walking off the job.

No one in Folsom deserves to have to work in an unreasonably hazardous environment. OSHA provides protections for workers who may want to refuse to work in a workplace that is unreasonably dangerous. If a worker is injured or made ill in the workplace, they may want to learn more about pursuing workers’ compensation benefits to help make ends meet financially before they can go back to work.