Workplace safety: refusing hazardous work

Many Californians work in jobs that are inherently dangerous. Firefighters, police officers, and even construction and factory workers can be faced with hazardous conditions on a nearly daily basis. For many of these workers, the threat of a work accident is just part of the job. But, they should know that they have legal rights with regard to the protection of their own safety, and employers can do very little, if anything, to those who act on these rights.

More specifically, in some circumstances, workers who are asked to perform hazardous work can refuse to do so without any negative consequences. In order for this to apply, two criteria must be met. First, performing the work must violate one or more health or safety regulations. Second, the work must put the worker in a position where they are confronted by a real and apparent hazard. So, what should those who meet this criteria do?

First, they should talk to their supervisor and explain that they don't want to do the work. The supervisor should either correct the hazardous condition or reassign the worker to safer duties. Since one of the requirements that must be met before work can be refused is that it violates health or safety regulations, the supervisor should be informed that the worker believes violations are occurring. If nothing is done to remedy the problem, then a complaint can be lodged with Cal/OSHA.

Sadly, many workers are injured on the job when workplace safety isn't taken seriously. When this happens, a worker can be left with unexpected medical expenses and lost wages that throw their finances into disarray. Those who find themselves in this difficult position should be sure to consider their full range of legal options, which may include seeking workers' compensation benefits and, perhaps, pursuing a personal injury lawsuit.

Source: dir.ca.gov, "Health & Safety Rights: Facts for California Workers," accessed on May 8, 2017

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