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I really enjoy my job working in an automotive shop, but my boss is not providing any safety equipment unless I ask for it on my own. He does not wear any either, so I don't know if he even knows all the risks of silicosis and breathing all the ground up fiberglass in the air.

How can I ask for the proper safety equipment without offending him? I have only been doing it for a couple of weeks, but I am still young and I don't want to put myself in unnecessary danger. Also, even though I get the equipment when I ask for it, I don't know what I should be wearing, and if I am asking for the right stuff.

I am regularly exposed to fiberglass particles and I know you are supposed to wear a mask, but that is it. My boss does keep the equipment on hand, but does not enforce people wearing it, and there is no signage or anything informing people to wear it.

I live in the United States and we have OSHA, but I would rather not go there yet.

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Do you have a union? In America they have OSHA to protect and report to, Britain has HSE... What country are you in? – JJosaur Mar 29 at 14:51
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@DJClayworth If he's mentioning OSHA, it's USA – Richard U Mar 29 at 15:13
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@Paparazzi EVERYONE in the USA is under OSHA, unless you work for the government, then you're under POSHA – Richard U Mar 29 at 15:24
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First you say "not providing any safety equipment...", then "does keep the equipment on hand". Everyone has to take some level of responsibility for their own safety. If the equipment is there, do you have to ask every time you need it? If this is a small business it probably doesn't have many formal written safety procedures, but if you haven't had any safety "training" at all after 2 weeks, ask for some - e.g is there a first aid kit, does anybody has first-aid training, etc. Don't make it all about "you" - you need to know what to do if somebody else has an accident. – alephzero Mar 30 at 1:49
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"How can I ask for the proper safety equipment without offending him?" Are his feelings more important than your safety ? I doubt it. Therefore stop worrying about it and simply ask him. – Radu Murzea Mar 30 at 9:54
up vote 2 down vote accepted

It may be worth asking about MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets)

MSDS are simple, plain language, documents that explain everything you need to know about working with a potentially hazardous material. In them you should find basic information on:

  1. Product and Company Information
  2. Composition and Ingredient Information
  3. Hazards Identification (both short and long term)
  4. First Aid Measures
  5. Fire Fighting Measures
  6. Accidental Release Measures
  7. Handling and Storage
  8. Exposure Controls and Personal Protection
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties
  10. Stability and Reactivity
  11. Toxicological Information
  12. Ecological Information
  13. Disposal Considerations

Here is an example of an MSDS for fiberglass

MSDS are required to be provided by international, federal, and in many cases state and local laws.

Just ask your employer for the MSDS, if he doesn't have them or refuses to provide them, mention that they are required by law and that the shop could face serious fines if they get inspected and the sheets aren't readily available.

In that context your boss may be a little more likely to comply. You're not only looking out for your own health, and the health of your co-workers, but you're also protecting his/her business from fines and lawsuits.


It's also probably worth mentioning that fiberglass is but one of many potentially hazardous materials in your workplace. I'm sure there are also a number of chemicals, cleaners, and so on, that could also cause serious harm if not handled properly...

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Find a new job. Now.

You have a love for automotive work and that is great. There are hundreds of thousands of shops across the country that you can work in. But what you are describing is arguably worse than your boss being a cheapskate. He simply doesn't know what he is doing. And this is extremely dangerous, even deadly in certain professions. You should certainly approach him and express your concerns but at the end of the day, you shouldn't as an employee be required to know what the industry safety measures are.. that's information that should be provided to you.

I had a similar dilemma with a landscaping company when I was 18. I used a large number of dangerous chemicals with little to no protection because that was how my boss (of a very small company) handled them. Within a couple years I began experiencing headaches and after running some medical tests I was found to have dangerously high levels of chemicals in my body. I was lucky as I was able to take medicine to flush it out and eliminate my symptoms.

But I have an acquaintance who was not so lucky. I personally know another man around my same age who worked for several summers performing demolition on old houses with no respiratory protective equipment because his coworkers didn't use any either. At the age of 30 he was diagnosed with sinus cancer and despite multiple surgeries and heavy chemotherapy the doctors only gave him a few years to live. He had no history of cancer in his family and the doctors directly blame environmental causes to his disease. He'll leave behind 3 kids and a wife.

Now these stories are certainly anecdotal and you may end up just fine but the risk to me is not worth it. At the end of the day your job is just that... a job. It's not worth your health or well-being.

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5  
The only right answer. Some random job is not worth your health and safety, and both is at stake here. – Magisch Mar 30 at 7:31
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I would agree with this if the employer was refusing to provide the equipment but it doesn't sound to me as though he is - he's just making his own decisions about whether or not to use it and allowing his employees to do the same. – Meelah Mar 30 at 9:47
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@Meelah when it comes to safety, letting everyone to make their own choices is a guarantee for disaster. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 30 at 13:12
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@Meelah A person working unsafely is themselves an enormous safety hazard. (E.g. person cuts self with chainsaw, falls over, chainsaw goes flying into next person.) – Aesin Mar 30 at 13:54
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-1, a good answer does not narrowly apply to workers in markets where labor is in high demand and they have the requisite 3-6 months of savings and joblessness is riskless. The point of the labor movement in general is to solve these problems when the worker is being screwed by the company's incompetence or malice, and workplace.SE should not be a repository of supporting votes for the company. – djechlin Mar 31 at 5:03

Considering that your boss is cooperative but not knowledgeable about which OSHA regulations are relevant to his business, you need to educate him.

The OSHA laws and regulations are public. You might want to ask your boss for a few hours of work-time for studying these regulations and sumarizing all which apply to your workplace and are currently not fulfilled.

Another option could be to hire an external consultant to do this, but that might be more expensive and likely also require much of your time because the consultant will have to ask you lots and lots of questions.

Should your boss stop being cooperative when confronted with this proposal, remind him how much it could cost him when any employees have an accident or occupational disease caused by non-compliance and they file a lawsuit.

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I'd say boss would stop being responsive the first time some of the equipment is damaged. Probably be using broken equipment until a few weeks before a OSHA inspection, or someone from corporate due in. :) – Dan Shaffer Mar 31 at 17:39

Safety is a priority. I've seen businesses closed down for not complying with basic safety needs. As a forestry worker more times than I like to recall there were injuries which would have been fatal without the gear. Automotive engineering is less directly dangerous but has safety issues to consider.

Most safety is common sense anyway.

Do a bit of research on what safety gear you need. With fibreglass I would wear a mask and overalls and gloves so I'd be as fully covered as possible. But your main danger is your lungs. (I just cover up because you can get intense itching). There's not a whole lot of safety gear you need for automotive engineering, steel capped boots, earmuffs, overalls and masks take care of just about everything. You don't need harnesses and things and you probably don't even need the earmuffs very often.

Goggles if you're gas or mig welding, full mask if arc welding, clear goggles if grinding, common sense stuff.

If in doubt, wear the gear. You should have learnt the basics during your apprenticeship. And keep your workspace clean.

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There are a few bits and pieces that are ambiguous in your question so I’m working on the assumption that your workplace is stocked with the correct safety equipment, but that your boss only distributes it when it’s requested. If I’m wrong, I’d suggest updating your question.

Based on that assumption, I’d say that the only way to bring about more of a culture of safety is to lead by example (or, failing that, at least look after your own safety!) and keep asking for the equipment you need, every time you need it. Can you also ask that the equipment be kept somewhere where you can access it yourself rather than having to ask for it? If not, then keep asking.

If it’s a case of the equipment having to be ordered in, it seems to me that that problem will surely resolve itself very quickly once you have everything you need.

Finally, do your best to stay on good terms with your boss so as to give him no possible reason to find you annoying. Do your research and be sure you are asking for the right equipment, especially if he has to order new stuff, be certain you’re not asking for something that will go to waste.

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I disagree with this advice. This puts the onus on safety on someone admitting that they are new to the industry. If his/her research proves incorrect there could be serious repercussions. Safety guidelines and preventative measures for a company should be set by someone with experience not up to the individual worker to "figure it out". – DanK Mar 29 at 16:28
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No, a thousand times over. It's the duty of the employer to provide a safe working environment for their employees. If your employer doesn't know, they need to consult with someone who does, make compliant safety rules and enforce them at all levels. – DLS3141 Mar 29 at 19:41
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This is good advice. Whistleblowers' careers usually end badly, as do the careers of those labelled as "troublemakers" or "whiners", even if they are right. The right thing is to complain to the appropriate authorities, but you will lose your job and possibly your career. – Jay Godse Mar 29 at 20:07
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@DanK DLS3141 what you say is fine in theory, but you have to relate it to the size of the business. Where I work there is a medical center equipped to do emergency operations, medical staff available 24/7/365, and the company operates its own ambulance fleet. But every employee still has to take individual responsibility for having the right personal safety equipment, knowing how to use it, and actually using it! The OP's workplace apparently has the appropriate kit available, so it's up to each individual to make use of it. Employees are adults, not schoolchildren. – alephzero Mar 30 at 2:03
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@alephzero With any other topic I would 100% agree with you that if the employee sees something wrong it is his/her duty to step up and improve the situation. But with safety issues I think a different standard is warranted... the risk of "getting it wrong" simply outweighs other factors. You do have a good point about the size of an organization as many small businesses don't have the financial leverage to have their own Safety & Compliance department. But that is where industry associations fill the gap... so that small business can leverage the combined knowledge of the industry. – DanK Mar 30 at 9:47

Just to offer another POV - just bring it up with him citing 29 CFR 1910 and ask whether you should provide your own or not per Standard 132. It's non-confrontational and gets your point across.

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Disclaimer: I am no legal expert. I am simply trying to provide common-sense advice. Refer to a lawyer if you're unsure about the legality of any of the advice I am providing.

I am advising you to keep your own health and safety in mind above all else:

  • Refuse unsafe work
  • Inform your boss of his duties and responsibilities to you as an employee
  • Possibly report him to the authorities if appropriate (refusing to provide equipment, etc.)
  • Seek new employment if this workplace is unsafe, and not willing to provide equipment or training

In most places the safety equipment you require should already be on hand, and you should be required by law to use it when conducting certain operations (such as masks/goggles/gloves for painting, for example). In other words, the fact that your employer is not providing you with the information that you require this equipment and/or doesn't already have it all on hand for you to use raises big red flags to me.

Keep in mind that equipment is useless if you're not instructed on how to use it!

You should, at this point, educate yourself as to the law, and create a comprehensive list of the equipment/training that your boss has to provide to you, and every other employee there.

Request it ASAP, and present him with this list (by e-mail is best, so that you create a paper trail), and be prepared to produce the links to the website of whichever agency lists the basic health and safety regulations governing your job site (which, judging by the comments, seems to be OSHA). For all I know the OSHA website might have a bunch of instructional safety videos that you can all watch and that's that. However, your boss might have to hire a company to come in and conduct training if he is unaware of the safety techniques, and can't find free sources for this information.

You should be able to refuse unsafe work (such as working with fiberglass without an appropriate mask) until this equipment/training is provided.

At the end of the day, if he doesn't provide you with what you need, and you don't want to deal with the hassle of reporting him, or otherwise trying to change his ways, then you should simply seek new employment immediately. If you can't afford to be without a job until you secure new employment get some gear of your own to use in the interim.

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-1, there is nothing in the question that implies that the boss is refusing to give the OP the safety equipment, once he asks for it. This sounds more like a workplace culture issue than a legal one. – Meelah Mar 29 at 15:50
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Legally, the employer is in the wrong, see Raystafarian's answer. In all actuality, no one cares. But the OP's coworkers aren't going to like him anymore if he's the one that gets 8+ hours of mask wearing enforced. – Mazura Mar 30 at 5:27
    
@Mazura Until they start getting sick because they weren't wearing the masks. – JAB Mar 30 at 13:05

Make your boss change his attitude, or leave if you can't.

It's nice of him to provide you with protection equipments on request, but it's not nearly enough. Here are a few scenarios:

  • an accident happens while you work wearing your PPE, and your boss doesn't. You are fine, but your boss gets injured.
  • an accident happens while your boss works. He's not using the PPE, and he obviously won't ask you to wear any just because you're near him. You both get injured.
  • you have to perform a task you've never done before. You don't know which PPE you should use, and your boss won't tell you (either because he doesn't know, or because he wouldn't care to wear those himself). Again, you get injured.

I wouldn't take all those risks if I were you.

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