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Understanding workers' safety rights

Many of us know that workers have rights, and that employers have obligations to provide a reasonably safe working environment. However, most of us are a bit foggy on the details.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 provides that workers have the right to a reasonably safe working environment. This means the workplace should be free from known health and safety hazards. Even where there are risks, workers have the right to be provided with safety gear relevant to the workplace. This could include gloves, harnesses or lifelines for falls. Workers also have the right to work on machinery that is safe, and to be protected from toxic chemicals.

Enforcing these rights is the job of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. When workers have concerns about unsafe working environments, they have the right to request an OSHA investigation and speak with an inspector. When someone voices their concern to OSHA, their name is not revealed to their employer and they should not fear retaliation. It is also possible to request a log of workplace injuries and illnesses and review records of them as well. With regards to one's own injury, it is an injured worker's right to report an injury or illness and view their medical records.

Suffering injuries at work can be a traumatic experience and the fear of retaliation may prevent someone from reporting their injury, but it is important to remember that workers have rights and when those rights are violated, legal recourse may be available.

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