Filing a Complaint with the OSH Division
The North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Act gives employees the right to file complaints about workplace safety and health hazards. Further, the act gives complainants the right to request that their names not be revealed to their employers. Complaints from employees and their representatives are taken seriously by Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSH) and appropriate actions will be taken in a timely manner.
OSH recommends that employees try to resolve safety and health issues first by reporting them to their supervisors, managers or the workplace safety and health committee. At any time, however, employees can file a complaint with the OSH Complaint Desk. OSH jurisdiction is limited to workplaces within North Carolina and includes only hazards that currently exist or have existed within the past six months.
Employees or their representatives have a right to request an inspection of a workplace if they believe there is a violation of a safety or health standard, or if there is any danger that threatens physical harm, or if an "imminent danger" exists. Anyone who knows about a workplace safety or health hazard may file a complaint, and OSH will investigate the concerns reported.
Note: To be considered imminent danger, the following conditions must be met: 1) death or serious physical harm must be threatened; serious physical harm is impairment of the body such as to render the part of the body affected functionally useless or substantially reduced in efficiency; and 2) the threat must be immediate or imminent.
Employees or their representatives must provide enough information for OSH to determine that a hazard possibly exists. Workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file a complaint.
Because it is important to give as much complete and accurate information as possible about an alleged hazard, answers to the following types of questions may be useful:
- How many employees work at the site and how many are exposed to the hazard?
- How and when are employees exposed?
- What work is performed in the unsafe and/or unhealthful area?
- What type of equipment is used? Is it in good condition?
- What materials and/or chemicals are used?
- Have employees been informed or trained regarding hazardous conditions?
- What process and/or operation is involved?
- What kinds of work are being done nearby?
- How often and for how long do employees work at the task that leads to their exposure?
- How long (to your knowledge) has the condition existed?
- Have any attempts been made to correct the problem?
- How many shifts work in the area and what times do they start? On what shifts does the hazard exist?
- What personal protective equipment is required by the employer? Is the equipment used by the employees?
- Has anyone been injured or made ill as a result of this problem?
- Have there been any "near-miss" incidents?
The following are some additional questions that are specific for health hazards:
- Has the employer conducted any tests to determine if employees are exposed to the hazardous condition or substance?
- What are these tests and the results of the tests?
- What steps has the employer taken, if any, to control the hazard?
- Do any employees have any symptoms that they think are caused by the hazardous condition or substance?
- Have any employees been treated by a doctor for a work-related disease or condition? What was it?
There are two ways that OSH can respond to a complaint. OSH can either perform an on-site inspection or an off-site investigation.
Although every employee has a right to request an onsite inspection if certain conditions are met, there are times when a phone/fax (or letter) investigation may be a better alternative. This approach enables OSH to respond quickly to lower-priority hazards, and enables the agency to concentrate resources on the most serious workplace hazards. Employees who request an off-site investigation do not give up their right to request an on-site inspection of potential violations and hazards if they are not satisfied with the investigation.
Employees or their representatives have the right to file a complaint with OSH, without being subject to discrimination associated with their complaint. The Labor Laws of North Carolina authorize the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Bureau (REDB) to investigate employee complaints of employer discrimination against those who are involved in safety and health activities.
Some examples of discrimination are firing, demotion, transfer, layoff, losing opportunity for overtime or promotion, exclusion from normal overtime work, assignment to an undesirable shift, or denial of benefits such as sick leave or vacation time.
For more information, or to file a discrimination complaint, contact the REDB: 1-800-NC-LABOR (1-800-625-2267) (in-state-only) or 919-807-2831 (local and out-of-state). Press Option 3 for Discrimination and then ask for the Information Officer. You may also electronically contact the bureau at email@example.com.