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Being Heard: Occupational Safety and Health

I have spent a lot of the last few days discussing the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) grievance/complaint process. However, as we just saw yesterday, whistleblowing can take several different shapes and forms. One of the major purposes of this website is to give you multiple tools for your toolbox, so, that you can become self aware in any situation that just seems "off" to you. One of the great illusions that employers try to enshroud their employees with is that if something only feels vaguely wrong, it's not a big deal. The more likely explanation why you feel this kind of slight dysphoria is that you just don't know enough, yet. We are taught from an early age in the K-12 system to be followers, and not leaders. It is part of brainwashing to become obedient wage slaves. Whenever a boss or leader tells you to do something, you are eager and quick to oblige because you were trained to be that way. We may discuss this in more detail in a different post, but for now, let's focus on the present.


Occupational Safety and Health is another one of those things that are seemingly drilled into our head whenever we go through orientation in our school or work. In fact, the "training" from our institution which is although superficial, seems comprehensive to the common layperson. If you do any deeper digging, however, you find that the training we receive during orientation, or as part of an annual requirement is typically lackluster, and devoid of actually useful information. The goal for this subsection is to expose the reader to the information we need to truly assess whether we are working in a safe and/or healthy environment. Furthermore, if this is not the case, we intend to inform the reader on how to submit a formal complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or their state's respective regional office.


Going back to your orientation training --- I'm sure everyone has seen those cute photos that show over-the-top, exaggerated instances of OSHA violations in a workplace setting.

Gee! This lab doesn't look very safe! Queue the obligatory chuckles.

Shattered glass bottles everywhere, corrosion, maybe a couple flammable, volatile chemicals next to an open flame. Obviously, this hypothetical situation is extremely hazardous and unsafe, but how unsafe does a workplace have to actually be for it to be a concern for OSHA? This will largely be a judgment call on your part. Due to the lack of appropriate training in many workplaces, it's hard to say for sure when "enough is enough". Generally speaking, you will want to see a consistent pattern of unsafe practices being conducted within your workplace, even if you feel like that each individual infraction is only marginally unsafe. When you see one or more individuals either cutting corners, or genuinely not knowing what the appropriate standard operating procedures (SOPs) are for handling certain chemicals, this raises red flags for OSHA. Unfortunately, just like in our EEO discussion, OSHA is largely blind to the daily happenings throughout different institutions. Someone needs to inform OSHA when unsafe practices are becoming habitual in the workplace.


How does one report violations to OSHA though? As you might imagine, the process is actually surprisingly similar to an EEO complaint. OSHA's official website is as follows:


https://www.osha.gov


Once you are there, you will want to click "Contact Us". You can either call the main line at 800-321-6742 (OSHA), or locate your regional office. Speaking from professional experience, OSHA is genuinely interested in complaints, especially if they are legitimate. The fact is, unfortunately, like the EEOC, they are swamped. The regional offices help to distribute the workload, and usually OSHA headquarters will delegate your complaint to your regional office anyway. I would recommend calling the applicable office that is within your district or region, and at the very least leave a message.


After you find out what your regional office is, however, you can usually search on the internet for your state's Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) website (all states that participate in OSH will have one), and you should, with a little bit of luck find a way to submit a complaint through navigating their website. Because I am concerned about my anonymity, I will just say that clicking on your state on the "Find an OSHA Office" link will provide a link to your state's onsite consultation program, which can offer additional instructions on how to request an onsite visit or submit a complaint. If nothing else, you can find additional resources on the US Government's whistleblower website, which as mentioned before, is specifically tailored for safety and health violations:


https://www.whistleblowers.gov/


I think I will wrap up today's post here. I apologize in advance for the long-windedness, but I felt like it was necessary to have this post to transition from EEO over to OSH, which are related in that they both are related to labor laws, but also different in their responsibilities and functions. Tomorrow, we will discuss further about the OSH process including how to get a valid complaint taken seriously, and eventually get an onsite investigation at your workplace or institution.



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