How to Handle Construction Employer Negligence

Safety is important in any workplace, but especially construction sites. Working for an employer who neglects safety rules and precautions puts you, your coworkers, and the project as a whole at risk. There are specific regulations in place concerning workplace safety in construction; it is critical for both employers and employees to understand and implement the proper precautions.

Jobs in the construction industry are extremely varied, and workers are often subjected to dangerous risks, including falls from rooftops or other heights, equipment or machinery malfunctions, electrocutions, and exposure to hazardous materials such as asbestos and silica dust. Because of these risks, it is imperative that steps are taken to ensure workers’ safety at all times while working. Occasionally, however, safety regulations are disregarded in order to increase the speed or efficiency of a project.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, it is an employer’s obligation to ensure safety regulations are upheld on any job site. Employees have the right to work with safe and properly-functioning machines and equipment, receive adequate and necessary safety gear, receive training in a language they understand, request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, participate in on-site inspections, and address any concerns privately with an inspector.

Any worker in the construction industry who feels that their workplace is unsafe, or that their employer is not abiding by the proper regulations, is entitled to raise their concerns with their employer or higher authorities. Employees have legal rights in situations regarding risky work environments, and it is important that unsafe practices or safety violations are addressed promptly. Every worker has the right to report safety concerns or violations to the proper authorities without the risk of retaliation from their employer. If you feel your construction employer is neglecting safety regulations, follow these steps to prevent costly, painful, or even fatal accidents.

1. Bring Your Concerns to Your Employer

The first step in dealing with construction safety violations is to discuss your concerns with your employer. On occasion, an employer may be unaware of safety issues on job sites; address any problems with your employer first, before determining if a further course of action is required.

Your employer is required to know and implement any relevant safety procedures and precautions. Even with the proper precautions in place, some employees choose to disregard established regulations. If your safety concerns are related to a coworker or coworkers, bring the issues to your employer’s attention and request that they handle the situation(s) accordingly.

2. Contact OSHA

If your employer does not address and correct the safety concerns properly, or if the issues are the result of your employer’s negligence, it is crucial to contact OSHA as soon as possible. Employers are required by law to comply with the health and safety standards set forth by the OSH Act; employees are entitled to request an OSHA inspection to ensure this compliance, and to report any unsafe working conditions. Workers are not required or expected to know every standard established by the OSH Act, so it is recommended to bring any health or safety concerns to the attention of the appropriate authorities.

OSHA retains confidentiality with their reports, meaning they will not reveal any of your information when you file a safety and health complaint or request an inspection. The OSH Act also makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for contacting OSHA with safety concerns. OSHA citations may only be issued for current violations or violations that occurred within the past six months, so it is important to file any complaints as soon as possible. There are several options available for workers to file complaints with OSHA:

Fax/Mail: OSHA provides a form to be printed, completed, and either faxed or mailed to the nearest OSHA office. If you’d like an on-site OSHA inspection performed, a written complaint signed by either you or your representative must be submitted.

Online: Workers may submit questions or complaints online regarding any issues. Any complaints submitted online are forwarded to the appropriate state authorities for further investigation.

Phone: Your local OSHA office staff is able to answer any questions you have regarding health and safety standards or violations, and to assist in filing a complaint. If there is an immediate and/or life-threatening emergency, alert your local OSHA office as soon as possible.

3. Complaint Handling Process

OSHA takes all health and safety complaints seriously. After receiving a complaint, OSHA determines the best course of action: typically, either an on-site inspection, or an off-site investigation.

Off-Site Investigations

If an off-site investigation is deemed appropriate, OSHA will contact your employer by fax or phone to explain the complaint and the alleged safety violations. Your employer will then have five days to respond, providing written record of any issues found and the steps taken or planned to correct the violation(s). If the corrective action is adequate, OSHA will not perform an on-site inspection. However, you will receive a copy of your employer’s response. If you feel more action is required, you may request an on-site inspection.

On-Site Inspections

OSHA prioritizes the need for on-site inspections as follows:

Imminent danger: Imminent danger situations are given top priority for on-site OSHA inspections. These are situations in which employees face an immediate risk of serious physical harm or death.

Fatality or catastrophe: Employers are required to report fatalities and catastrophes (events in which three or more workers are hospitalized) within eight hours. These situations receive second priority for on-site inspections.

Complaint or referral: Complaints and referrals from employees or whistleblowers are prioritized after more immediate risks. The need for an on-site inspection is determined on a case-by-case basis, prioritized by the severity of the alleged safety risk(s) and the number of workers exposed to the hazard.

Legally, OSHA must determine that reasonable grounds exist to believe an OSH Act standard has been violated, or a safety hazard exists, before conducting an on-site inspection. If these grounds exist, OSHA will contact the employer to explain the alleged issues; if the employer provides documentation to prove that adequate corrections have been made to abate the safety concerns, an on-site inspection may not be performed without further cause.

You have the right to participate in any on-site OSHA inspection. The OSH Act also allows workers to discuss any safety concerns with the inspector in private, without the risk of retaliation from their employers. Inspections are typically restricted only to the alleged violations or hazards in the relevant complaint or referral. However, the inspector may decide to widen an inspection based on hazards in plain sight, their own professional judgment, or conversations with workers during the inspection.

4. Handling Retaliation

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against any employee for raising concerns regarding health and safety with OSHA, requesting an on-site inspection, and/or participating in an inspection or communicating with an inspector. Unfortunately, some employees still face unfair and unlawful treatment from their employers after exercising their rights as workers under the OSH Act. OSHA defines this retaliation as “unfavorable personnel action,” which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Blacklisting
  • Demoting
  • Denying benefits, overtime, and/or promotion
  • Suspension
  • Firing or laying off
  • Intimidation
  • Reducing pay or hours

If you feel your employer has implemented any unfavorable personnel action as a result of exercising your rights protected by the OSH Act, it is important to contact OSHA immediately. Reports of retaliation must be submitted by either the affected employee(s) or their representative within a set time frame, ranging from 30 to 120 days based on the alleged unlawful action.

As a worker in the construction industry, you are legally entitled to a safe working environment, to address health and safety concerns or violations with authorities, and to request and participate in on-site OSH Act compliance inspections. These rights are all protected, and retaliation from your employer for exercising these rights is unlawful. However, filing complaints, understanding legal standards and regulations, dealing with government agencies and paperwork, and handling potential retaliation from your employer are often confusing tasks. Filing complaints or lawsuits against your employer is daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone.

If you feel your workplace is unsafe because your construction employer neglects safety rules and regulations, it is extremely beneficial to contact a legal professional to assist in understanding and properly utilizing all legal protections provided to you by the state and federal government. The Dolman Law Group is committed to personal service and accessibility. Our attorneys will work with you to ensure your construction workplace is safe, compliant with the standards set forth by the OSH Act, and that you are ready to legally prevent or eliminate any unlawful action taken against you by your employer.

Don’t subject yourself to unsafe, hazardous, and potentially fatal working conditions. Call us today at (727) 451-6900 or online for a free consultation with our dedicated and experienced legal team.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765

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