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I have been working on a production line for a couple of years now. Things were great when we started, but the safety is getting worse. The water fountain doesn't work anymore and we have a rolling ladder (think giant triangle on wheels) that has one of the supports broken and held together with duct tape. Old stuff is breaking and nobody is fixing it, we just gotta work around it.

We don't have a union, and I've brought this up with my manager, but he hasn't done anything. Someone told me that I should maybe go to OSHA, but I'm not sure. Won't I get in trouble? I need this job and can't afford to lose it. I'm going for my GED now, but I haven't completed it yet so it won't be easy to get another one if I lose this job. My kids depend on me. Is there some way I can report this without getting in trouble?

  • 12
    Sample management conversation: "Hmm, Tina_Sea mentioned these 5 concerns, and now the OSHA complaint mentions these same 5 concerns. Who do you think filed the OSHA complaint?" "It's anonymous so there's no way for us to figure out who the likely culprit is." -- If you go to OSHA, beware. Although some people claim OSHA ensures anonymity, if you've already complained about a ladder and a fountain, and your OSHA report starts off by mentioning a ladder and a fountain, then management may not have too difficult of a time putting together the puzzle pieces to figure out who made the complaint. – TOOGAM May 19 '18 at 22:57
  • Is your workplace actually subject to OSHA inspection? – user60393 May 19 '18 at 23:43
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    If it's in the United States, as the post tags indicate, it's subject to OSHA. All workplaces in the US are subject to OSHA. – Glen Pierce May 20 '18 at 2:15
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    @TOOGAM can you file a complaint without mentioning specific issues? (and they do an inspection)? – ypercubeᵀᴹ May 20 '18 at 11:56
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If you file a complaint with the OSHA then the OSHA will not share your personal information with your employer:

OSHA will keep your information confidential.

So you should be safe from retaliation if you file a complaint.

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    Of course, even if an employer has no way of knowing that an employee fired a complaint, an employee will lose his job if a company goes under. In cases involving genuine safety hazards, that may be better than having someone get hurt, but that doesn't mean one should eagerly report all violations without regard for the actual level of danger involved. – supercat May 18 '18 at 16:55
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    @supercat Of course, once equipment is not properly maintained it is difficult to predict how it will fail, and if that failure mode will involve damage to people – SJuan76 May 18 '18 at 17:10
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    Also, if they do fire you because you reported something to OSHA, there's precedent for unlawful termination suits that in some cases OSHA will help you file. – Anoplexian May 18 '18 at 18:07
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    @supercat That's only relevant if OSHA shuts them down for refusal to fix their business practices. If it's not a financial aspect to the shut down, then your comment isn't really relevant. Also, you can always file a suit against it when it goes defunct, it would be taken out of the assets remaining when equipment and stuff is sold off. Unless the company was already shut down by the time OP was fired, they can always file it if applicable. – Anoplexian May 18 '18 at 20:41
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    @supercat Better no job and alive than a large compensation sum paid to your widow. – gnasher729 May 20 '18 at 7:47
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Talk to the OSHA about this. They'll be able to advise you confidentially about how to progress this concern for health and safety.

They doubtless get a lot of inquiries from concerned employees who are also afraid for their jobs and livelihoods.

Contact them, describe the situation (and your fears for your own job) and take their advice. That's what they're there for.

Bear in mind that there's potential for one of your colleagues to be seriously injured or worse if these problems aren't addressed. Even though you might not be affected, you would still have this on your conscience if anything bad should happen to someone.

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In addition to contacting the OSHA, I'd also start looking for a new job, just to keep multiple doors open.

Equipment breaking and not being replaced might mean multiple things (no money to replace it, bad management, ...) and an investigation from OSHA could put your company out of business. You want to be ready to jump ship if the one you're currently in sinks, and I'd suggest you to start looking asap, since you said it won't be easy to find another one.

  • It may also be that since no one reported it, the management can only assume all is okay. After all, they can't inspect every square inch. They rely on the people down below to report it up the chain. – Dan May 18 '18 at 17:53
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    @Dan reporting to the manager without any resulting action is quite different from "no one reported" – Gerhardh May 18 '18 at 19:11
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    @Dan Management can't just assume. Workplace safety is their responsibility. If problems are not reported then it's managements failure to train their employees. Or worse, being known for retaliating against anyone reporting problems. – gnasher729 May 20 '18 at 7:50
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Even though you're not in a union, there are things you can do.

IF there is someone above your management you can talk to, see if you can speak to them. Tell them that they don't want someone to get hurt and expose the company to risk/liability.

Any dangerous equipment might "accidentally" be rendered inoperable. Anyone working on the dangerous equipment may work very very slowly.

Also, a lack of union does not preclude you from taking a job action. Work to the book and follow every procedure. If you get assigned to the dangerous equipment, fill out a repair ticket. If there's any way to lock out the plug, do so. Get as many people to keep doing this and they'll get the point, at least if they fire anyone, firing for obeying safety standards is usually a damn good case for wrongful termination.

That way, if they take any action against you, they'll probably settle quicky, use that money to get your GED. You are not powerless here.

GOOD LUCK

5

You can file a complaint with OSHA.

Written complaints that are signed by workers or their representative and submitted to an OSHA Area or Regional office are more likely to result in onsite OSHA inspections.

On the form you can select Do NOT reveal my name to my Employer.
form

One possible outcome is the business shutting down if they don't have the funds to correct critical safety violation(s). OSHA is not going to give them much slack based on cannot afford it. If it is just a ladder and drinking fountain that is not much. It would be cheaper for them to fix it than shut down.

If you try and fix the problem directly and it fails they could blame you for the problem.

Your are in a bad spot. It is not safe. You have a choice of working in a unsafe environment or risk the the company having to shut down. If you are severely hurt you children are not going eat.

2

In addition to or before filing an OSHA complaint, you can ask your coworkers to also report the issues to your manager or with any other managers responsible for the area in which the equipment you're concerned about is used. It's not clear to me whether your coworkers have also reported these problems to your manager, and their cooperation helps you in several ways:

  1. This prevents you from being easily identified by an OSHA complaint. (thanks to @TOOGAM.) If you decide to pursue an OSHA complaint and OSHA follows up with your managerial staff, your manager will have a harder time identifying you as the source of the OSHA complaint if multiple employees have reported the issues outlined in the OSHA complaint. This will help shield you from retaliation.
  2. This validates your concerns in your manager's eyes. One employee's concerns can potentially be brushed off as the employee being oversensitive to an issue. A whole team or multiple teams of employees expressing worries about the same problems shows that there is widespread consensus that they are real issues.
  3. This adds urgency to the problems. Multiple people reporting the same problems to your manager over an extended period of time prevents your manager (either by accident or on purpose) from forgetting about the problems until they are no longer being reported.

When asking your coworkers to report the issues you have identified, make sure your coworkers understand that they should express their concerns independently from your reports. Reports about safety hazards from multiple employees coming forward on their own will carry more weight in your manager's eyes than your coworkers telling your manager "Hey, Tina_Sea told me to remind you about the broken water fountain."

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