Safety and Health at Work: Smoking and Other Hazards

From Page 1: Workplace Safety

Federal law remains mum on smoking in the workplace, aside from conceding to the dangers of second hand smoke.  However, a litany of state, city, and municipal codes regulate smoking in and around the workplace with increasing scrutiny.  Depending on your exact work site office, the laws protecting your right to smoke, or your right avoid smoke will vary greatly.  Generally, workers have a right to work in smoke-free environment indoors, and in outdoors, there are probably designated smoking areas for smokers, which segregate from the pristine non-smoking areas.

Smoker Rights

In many states, laws are currently in place protecting smokers’ rights to work.  Some companies actively seek to avoid smokers due to their significantly larger expected insurance and sick leave costs.  Each state, however, possesses their own specific laws regarding the rights of smokers in the workplace, and in almost all cases, employers and insurance carriers will charge smokers much larger health insurance premiums than non-smokers.

Pesticide and Hazardous Substance Protection for Workers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for monitoring pesticide usage in the workplace and preventing hazardous exposure to workers.  OSHA is responsible for hazardous substance complaints by workers.  In all states, a litany of differing laws exists regulating the storage, transport, and use of hazardous chemicals.  Workers that believe they have suffered illness or injury due to hazardous chemical exposure should contact their local OSHA office to file a complaint.

Protecting Yourself from Workplace Violence

Most workplaces have a workplace violence prevention program and do not tolerate threats or acts of violence.  OSHA has issued several guidelines to employers for setting up workplace violence prevention programs, including:

  • Make an overall workplace commitment of zero tolerance towards violent or violent-like actions, gestures, threats, or comments
  • Analyze the risk factors associated with your specific workplace and violence
  • Prevent and minimize all known hazards perpetrating violence
  • Train all employees and managers on how to observe, report, and prevent workplace violence

Whistleblower Protection under OSHA Laws

In order to promote the safety provisions in OSHA, the Department of Labor recognizes the important part that individual workers play in reporting violations.  In many cases, these workers will do so, in spite of the threat of retaliation in the workplace.  Section 11 ( c ) of the Act makes illegal discriminating or retaliating against workers excising their rights under OSHA.  There are currently seventeen (17) federal statutes that OSHA enforces, which protect the rights of whistleblowers in the workplace.  Typically, whistleblowers must prove an illegal activity is occurring, their employer was aware of this illegal activity, the whistle blowing employee suffered adverse action, and the adverse action was directly related to reporting illegal activity in the workplace.  Adverse action contains a broad number of actions, which may be deemed discriminatory and illegal if any employer utilizes them in light of an employee exercising their legal rights to report, participate in, or testify during an OSHA violation investigation, these adverse actions may include:

  • Demotion or termination of employment
  • Denial of benefits, promotion, overtime pay, or regular work hours
  • Pay or work hour reduction
  • Relocation or intra-company job transfer
  • Intimidation
  • Formal disciplinary action, such as warnings or write-ups
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