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How to File an OSHA Complaint

By Ed O'Keefe

The recent news about a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum worker's exposure to asbestos and his efforts to file safety complaints might pique the interest of other federal employees in similar situations.

As The Post documented on Sunday, Smithsonian lighting specialist Richard Pullman filed three complaints about asbestos with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has since cited the Smithsonian for failures of notification, monitoring and training.

OSHA recommends that employees first try to resolve issues with supervisors or a company's safety and health committee, as Pullman tried to do. If those efforts fail, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 grants public- and private-sector employees the right to file complaints about workplace health and safety standards. It also gives workers the right to withhold their name when issuing a complaint. In the case of federal employees, they follow the same procedures as private-sector employees.

Workers can file a complaint by calling the closest OSHA regional office, by filing a complaint online, or downloading the complaint form (pdf format) and sending it to the nearest OSHA office. "Written, signed complaints submitted to OSHA Area or State Plan offices are more likely to result in on-site OSHA inspections," according to the OSHA Web site.

OSHA then reviews each complaint to determine whether an off-site investigation or on-site inspection is necessary. Workers requesting an on-site inspection must meet one of eight criteria, including referral by a whistleblower investigator, reports of imminent danger or complaints against an employer with a history of health or safety violations.

By law, OSHA must complete an investigation within six months. If violations are found, it issues citations that normally include a monetary penalty. OSHA cannot however issue penalties or any sort to a federal agency when cited for violations of OSHA standards. Federal agencies are instead issued a formal notice.

While some may roll their eyes at employees who file OSHA complaints (or create hostile work environments for whistleblowers, as in Pullman's case), roughly 4.2 million occupational injuries and illnesses among U.S. employees occurred in 2005 and 5,703 employees died while on the job in 2006 according to OSHA. Its staff of 2,150 includes 1,100 inspectors nationwide and the office received $486.9 million in funding for fiscal year 2007. It inspected 38,579 workplaces during FY '06 and 26 states with their own OSHA programs performed another 58,058 inspections during the same fiscal year.

Coming Soon: How do you file a workers compensation request? Pullman filed compensation claims with the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, which were denied. He's appealing those decisions.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 17, 2009; 2:17 PM ET
Categories:  Ask Your Government, Workplace Issues  
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