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My Workplace is Filthy. Should I Call OSHA?

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By Edward Tan, JD on June 07, 2012 7:02 AM

Most employers strive to keep their offices clean and safe. Others, not so much. If your boss won't do anything about your filthy workplace, a call to OSHA may be what's needed to get them to act.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a federal law that requires employers to maintain safe and clean workplaces. The law is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA regulations apply to all states and failure to comply can result in fines, imprisonment, or both.

But there are some caveats. OSHA's protections only go so far. So depending on how dirty your office is, you may or may not get any relief.

Before you report your office to OSHA, you need to determine your employment status. The law only protects regular employees working in the private sector, not independent contractors. Also, most state and federal workers receive little or no OSHA protection. These employees are protected under different state and federal laws.

If you're covered, the next step is assessing the level of your office's filthiness and/or danger.

Under OSHA, work conditions must be free from anything that can cause injuries, illnesses, or death. Determining when you can report your boss to OSHA depends on whether your office poses an imminent risk of danger.

Faulty electrical work, weak floors, and even certain pest infestations are some examples of imminent danger risks. These things either place a worker's life in danger or can result in serious injury. Employees can and should report violations to OSHA.

If the hazard isn't dangerous, then workers should report the issue to their boss first before calling OSHA.

In either case, employers have to fix the violation and employees can refuse to work in the office until it's repaired.

Determining whether a filthy workplace warrants a call to OSHA can be murky. Unless something is clearly dangerous, a good first step is always letting your boss know first. OSHA probably isn't going to care too much that your office sink is full of dirty coffee cups.

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