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Can an employee refuse to work due to unsafe working conditions?

Most Worcester residents assume that when they go to work each day, they will be safe from imminent danger. Still, certain industries carry with them certain risks, and unfortunately unsafe working conditions and even fatal accidents can occur in any type of workplace. In some instances, a worker will take notice of unsafe conditions and will understandably want to avoid doing a particular task until the problem is remedied. However, refusing to work due to unsafe conditions is typically a worker's right only if there is an "imminent danger," or good reason to believe there is such a danger.

First, though, it's important to note that various laws, regulations and rules can affect whether or not a worker may refuse to do a job that he or she perceives as dangerous. In addition, workers may find that refusing to do a task may be worth it even if they are disciplined or fired because of it. Speaking with a workers' compensation attorney about one's situation may prove helpful in any case. According to the United States Department of Labor, in general workers only have the right to refuse to do a job if there is either an imminent danger to the worker or if the worker believes, in good faith, that there is an imminent danger.

Several conditions must be met in order for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect a worker who has walked off a dangerous job. These conditions include asking the employer to fix the problem, the employer failing to fix the issue and the problem being urgent enough that there is no time to correct the hazard via other safety channels, such as an OSHA inspection. In addition, the worker must truly believe an imminent danger exists and may not use safety as an excuse to disrupt business or harass his or her employer. Finally, it must be the case that a reasonable person would agree that there was a real threat of serious injury or death.

This information is only for general purposes, and is not legal advice. However, if all of the above conditions are met, a worker may be protected by OSHA for refusing to do work. There are several steps which must be followed, though, and a workers' compensation attorney can assist in understanding the process as well as understanding a worker's rights.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "Refusing to work because conditions are dangerous," Accessed April 26, 2015

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