Unsafe Working Conditions and Imminent Danger

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“O.S.H.A.”) is a federal agency responsible for ensuring clean, safe, and healthy working conditions. It is a part of the United States Department of Labor. O.S.H.A enforces the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“O.S.H. Act”). O.S.H.A. creates, implements, and enforces safety regulations in the workplace. It inspects work places to make sure they are clean, safe, and healthy. It assists employees with health and safety issues. And it trains and educates both employers and workers regarding safety issues and regulations. O.S.H.A. also protects workers from retaliation for complaining about unsafe working conditions.

The O.S.H. Act requires Amazon to find and correct safety and health problems. Amazon must first try to eliminate or reduce hazards by making changes in working conditions before resorting to personal protective equipment. Where personal protective equipment is required, Amazon must provide it at no cost to workers.

For example, Amazon should adjust the height of work tables and use lifts, jacks, and other machinery to lessen the physical burden of lifting. And Amazon should arrange the work area and use equipment to reduce twisting, turning, bending, reaching, pushing, and pulling since those contribute to workplace lifting injuries. Amazon should also regularly train workers to lift in a safe way. And such training should be in a language the workers understand. There are many feasible ways to reduce injuries in the workplace, and Amazon should solicit, welcome, and implement — not discourage, penalize, or ignore — suggestions from workers on how to do so.

Amazon should also inform workers about chemical hazards, provide regular and effective safety training, keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses, perform safety tests such as air sampling, provide protective equipment, post injury and illness data where workers can see them, notify O.S.H.A. within eight hours of a worker fatality, notify O.S.H.A. within twenty-four hours of a work-related inpatient hospitalization, and prominently display official O.S.H.A. Job Safety and Health — It’s the Law posters describing rights and responsibilities under the O.S.H. Act. And Amazon must not retaliate or discriminate against employees who use their rights under the law, including their rights to report work-related injuries or illnesses. 

If an Amazon employee observes dirty, unsafe, or unhealthy working conditions, or if an Amazon employee has been harassed, punished, or fired for complaining about dirty, unsafe, or unhealthy working conditions, he or she can report these conditions or retaliatory actions to O.S.H.A. With or without the help of an attorney, the employee has the right to file a confidential safety and health complaint and request an O.S.H.A. inspection of the employee’s workplace. The employee should file a complaint as soon as possible. Although the complaint can be anonymous, a signed complaint is more likely to result in an onsite inspection. 

There are several ways to submit a complaint to O.S.H.A. An employee may go online and fill out a complaint using a computer or mobil device. He or she may download an O.S.H.A. complaint form and fax, mail, or email it to O.S.H.A. He or she may also simply fax, mail, or email a letter to O.S.H.A.

If the employee is not represented by a lawyer, perhaps the best way to submit a complete and thorough complaint is to gather all relevant information and call the local O.S.H.A. offices or the national toll free number 800-321-OSHA (800-321-6742), preferably during business hours. An O.S.H.A. representative can walk the employee through the complaint and answer all questions. Amazon employees can also visit their local O.S.H.A. offices and talk to a representative in person. O.S.H.A. has ten regional offices and 90 area offices. The ten regional offices are located in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The employee should gather as much information as possible for any complaint. That includes the name, address, and telephone number of the Amazon worksite; the type of Amazon worksite, the name and job title of the manager; and the name, address, telephone number, and email address of the employee. It includes a detailed description of the hazard, the specific location of the hazard in the Amazon worksite, work tasks performed near the hazard, how often the work tasks are performed and for how long at any one time, and the number of shifts and when they each begin and end. It includes the number of employees at the Amazon worksite, the number of employees who may be exposed to the hazard, how close the employees are to the hazard, employees already injured by the hazard, and whether such employees received medical treatment. It includes how long the hazard has existed, whether Amazon knows about the hazard, whether Amazon tried to correct the hazard, and how long the employee expects the hazard to continue to exist. If in doubt, have the information available.

To be specific, an Amazon worker has the right to:

  •  Report an illness or injury caused by unsafe working conditions without fear of retaliation (i.e., being harassed, punished, or terminated).
  •  Ask Amazon to fix any unsafe conditions or violations of O.S.H.A. standards without fear of retaliation.
  •  Refuse to work in unsafe or dangerous conditions without fear of retaliation.
  •  Work without fear of unsafe machinery or equipment or toxic chemicals or other fumes.
  •  Receive free and effective work safety equipment such as gloves, goggles, or masks.
  •  Receive training and educational resources regarding O.S.H.A.’s compliance requirements.
  •  Ask O.S.H.A. for an inspection or investigation of an unsafe or dangerous condition in the workplace.
  •  See reports of threats or danger that an O.S.H.A. investigator finds.

Even if an Amazon employee is not in imminent danger, he or she can still report an unsafe condition to his or her supervisor and Human Resources Department. If they fail to remedy the problem, then the worker may file a complaint with O.S.H.A.

It is always a good idea for an employee to document what he or she observes, any conversations about it, and any response received. It may be good to send a copy of such documentation to someone who would willingly testify that it was a contemporaneous observation — in other words, that the employee wrote it down when it happened and when his or her memory was fresh.

Note that many states also have laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions, and state agencies that enforce those laws. States may adopt health and safety codes and other labor laws that are even stricter than what O.S.H.A. requires.

For example, California has the most Amazon warehouse workers of any state. The California Occupational Safety and Health Act gives workers the right to file complaints about workplace safety and health hazards. Although it is similar to the federal law, California’s regulations are usually stricter than the federal standard. Thus, California may require Amazon to pay for steel toed shoes in situations where the federal government might not do the same. California may also allow the Amazon employee to file a private lawsuit in state court even before the agency’s investigation has concluded, or even if the agency finds no violation.

O.S.H.A. or the equivalent state agency may decide to file a lawsuit on behalf of an Amazon employee. In a lawsuit brought by O.S.H.A. or an equivalent state agency, the employee may seek a court injunction ordering Amazon to remedy unsafe working conditions or health and safety policies. The employee may also seek monetary damages such as lost wages, lost benefits, back pay, front pay, and more. The employee may seek reinstatement to his or her former position. In extreme cases the employee may seek punitive damages. And the employee may seek evidence to use in a private right of action.

The federal O.S.H. Act does not provide for a private right of action. But some state O.S.H.A. statutes or workers compensation laws do. In a private right of action the employee may seek similar remedies on his or her own behalf. If the federal agency finds that Amazon violated the O.S.H. Act, that’s powerful evidence in support of a private action.

If possible, an Amazon employee would be well advised to hire a competent and experienced employment law attorney to assist with a complaint or lawsuit. But time is of the essence, especially if there is an imminent danger. If necessary, the employee can always hire an attorney later in the process. The attorney can represent the employee in a federal agency, state agency, federal court, or state court. And the attorney may be able to find additional options available to the employee based on his or her particular circumstances.

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Rosenbaum, Famularo & Segall, P.C.

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Email: CJ@AmazonSellersLawyer.com

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