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When workers have the right to refuse dangerous work

Posted in Our Blog,Workers Compensation on May 3, 2018

Most Louisiana residents would like to know they are safe when they go to work every day. From offices across the state to highways and high-rises under construction, the workplaces are unique and pose distinct challenges for managers and employees alike.

In 2015, the RAND Corporation conducted a survey of working conditions in the U.S. and discovered some interesting perspectives from those on the frontlines. A numer of employees reported that their “workplace is very physically and emotionally taxing, both for [the] workers themselves and their families.” Part of the difficulty, they explained, relates to the time crunch they work under and the fast pace they have to keep up to complete their tasks.

Although the study, entitled the American Working Conditions Survey, found that approximately 80 percent of those in the workforce claimed a sense of satisfaction on the job, it also revealed some disturbing aspects of the danger employees feel. Some 20 percent said they work in “a hostile or threatening social environment,” and over 50 percent stated they have experienced “unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions.”

While some of those threats may be perceptions rather than true dangers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration advises workers they have the “right to refuse dangerous work.” Certain conditions must be present for an employee to claim this right, including:

  • “A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger.”
  • The employee must have asked the employer to “eliminate the danger,” and the employer has not.
  • The employee must not work anyway, in “good faith.”
  • Time must be short; in other words, there is not enough time for an OSHA inspection or “regular enforcement channels.”

OSHA advises workers to ask their employer to eliminate the hazardous condition with corrective action, letting the supervisor know they will not work until the danger is gone. OSHA also says employees should remain on site unless given permission to leave.