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Can Construction Workers Refuse Unsafe Work?

OSHA posts guidelines for refusing unsafe work. Workers can refuse work that they feel is unsafe. Workers are protected from retribution from angry employers when the following conditions are met:

  • You ask the employer to correct the dangerous condition, and the employer refuses.
  • You genuinely believe in “good faith” that a danger exists.
  • Any reasonable person would agree that the conditions pose a high risk of accidents or death.
  • There is no time for external forces to intervene.

As a construction worker, you have an inalienable right to refuse dangerous work, and you can file a complaint with OSHA if you feel the conditions warrant investigation. Filing a complaint, however, isn’t the same as refusing to do the work.

Following the Recommended Steps To Refuse Work

According to OSHA, if you fear that working conditions, machinery, or assigned tasks are unsafe, you should first inform your employer of your feelings. You can file a complaint with OSHA at the same time as a creditable backup of your sincerity.

You should not leave the worksite, however, unless authorized by your employer to do so. If you don’t follow the correct procedure, you might risk lost wages or termination. If you feel your workplace is not safe, follow these steps:

  • Ask your employer to correct the dangerous situation or to assign you a different job.
  • Inform your employer that you won’t risk your health until the problem is eliminated.
  • Remain at your worksite until the employer assigns you other work or asks you to leave.
  • If the employer retaliates against you for refusing to work, file a complaint with OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Example of Unsafe Working Conditions

Workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions all the time, so it’s important to know that you can refuse to work. You can file a complaint with OSHA, inform your employer of the problem, and request that it be corrected.

If you’ve been injured because of unsafe conditions, you can file for injured employee compensation and punitive damages. Examples of unsafe working conditions include the following situations:

  • Defective equipment and machinery: This can include tools, supplies, and machinery used in construction.
  • Inadequate protection: This can include equipment safety guards, warning alerts, and other types of protection—such as physical protection.
  • Fire hazards or explosion risks: Fire hazards are common when welding around flammable materials, and explosions are also possible.
  • Hazardous air: The air you breathe must be safe or protected by breathing filters, which includes protection from the risk of coronavirus exposure.
  • Dirty, unsanitary workplace: When the company doesn’t clean adequately, slips and falls are common, and clutter poses severe risks.

Employer Retaliation

Employers often retaliate against workers who refuse dangerous work. If the employer retaliates against you, you must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of any reprisal. There are no forms to fill out to file a discrimination complaint. Examples of employer retaliation, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, include the following situations:

  • Firing or demoting you without just cause
  • Changing job duties or working hours to less desirable ones
  • Transferring you to another location
  • Reducing your pay
  • Spreading false rumors or bullying you
  • Engaging in verbal or physical abuse
  • Assigning more difficult work than usual
  • Giving a lower employee evaluation than you feel is warranted

Refusing Unsafe Work

It’s not only possible for workers to refuse unsafe work but also recommended. Workplace injuries from unsafe conditions can compromise your health and future. If you are injured at an unsafe worksite, you should contact your injury attorney immediately to evaluate your options.

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