How to File an OSHA Complaint: Complete Guide to Reporting Violations

osha inspection after a violation report

Every worker deserves a safe and healthy work environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays a critical role in achieving this by setting and enforcing safety standards across various industries. But what happens when you encounter a potential safety hazard at work? This article will guide you on how to report OSHA violations and the process of filing an OSHA complaint, empowering you to take action and protect yourself and your fellow workers.

OSHA Standards for Workplace Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets enforceable standards to ensure safe and healthy working conditions across various industries. These standards stem from the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, which mandates that employers provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. The OSH Act empowers OSHA to establish and enforce protective workplace safety and health standards.

According to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, known as the "general duty" clause, employers must provide employment and a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.

Basic Safety Requirements for All Industries

  • Access to Medical Exposure Records: Employees, their representatives, and OSHA have the right to access relevant medical records to monitor potential health risks from workplace exposures.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Workers are entitled to PPE to minimize harm from workplace hazards, with requirements varying by industry. Employers must supply and pay for this equipment and ensure employees are trained in its proper use.
  • Hazard Communication: Employers must evaluate and communicate the health risks of hazardous materials in the workplace. These materials must be labeled, and recipients must receive a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Employees must be trained on the risks associated with materials listed on the MSDS.


Common OSHA Violations

Workers often encounter several common OSHA violations, including:

    • Lack of proper safety gear
    • Unsafe or unhealthy conditions
    • Exposure to hazardous materials
    • Inadequate training for handling dangerous equipment

While this list is not exhaustive, it highlights the importance of being vigilant and aware of potential hazards in your workplace. Consult OSHA resources for a comprehensive overview of common violations.


Who Can File an OSHA Complaint?

Any worker or their representative can file an OSHA complaint if they believe that their employer is not complying with OSHA standards. This includes current employees, former employees, and even family members. Learn more about OSHA worker rights and protections.


How Can You File a Report with OSHA?

When it comes to filing an OSHA complaint, workers have several options to ensure their concerns are addressed promptly and efficiently. Here’s a detailed look at the types of complaints you may submit and their available reporting methods:

1. Filing a Safety and Health Complaint

Filing a safety and health complaint focuses on reporting safety or health hazards directly to OSHA, which include unsafe equipment, lack of PPE, hazardous materials, or unsafe working conditions. The goal is to prompt an investigation and corrective action to address the hazardous conditions.

  • Online Form: Visit OSHA’s official website and complete the online complaint form. This is a quick and convenient way to submit your complaint.
  • Phone: Call OSHA’s toll-free number (1-800-321-OSHA) or your local OSHA office to report OSHA violation verbally.
  • Fax or Mail: Download the OSHA complaint Form (OSHA 7) from OSHA’s website, fill it out, and send it via fax or mail to the nearest OSHA office.
  • In-Person: Visit a local OSHA office to file your complaint directly. This allows for personal interaction and the opportunity to provide additional context.

Whether filing online, by phone, fax, mail, or in-person, be prepared to provide detailed information about the violation, including:

    • The type of hazard
    • The location of the hazard
    • The number of employees affected
    • The duration of the hazard

When filing a Safety and Health Complaint with OSHA, you have the option to request anonymity. OSHA anonymous reporting can be done by selecting the option to keep your identity anonymous when filling out the complaint form (online, by fax, mail, or in person). If you are filing by phone, make sure to clearly state your request for confidentiality to the OSHA representative.

2. Filing a Whistleblower Complaint

Workers who have experienced employer retaliation for reporting safety and health concerns or engaging in other protected activities can file a whistleblower complaint. The whistleblower protection program safeguards employees who report violations from retaliation, such as termination, demotion, or other forms of discrimination.

  • Online Form: Visit OSHA’s whistleblower protection program page and complete the whistleblower complaint form online.
  • Phone: Call OSHA’s toll-free number (1-800-321-OSHA) or your local OSHA office to report the retaliation verbally.
  • Fax or Mail: Download the Whistleblower Complaint Form from OSHA’s website, fill it out, and send it via fax or mail to the nearest OSHA office.
  • In-Person: Visit a local OSHA office to file your whistleblower complaint directly. This method allows you to discuss your situation in detail with OSHA staff.

When filing a whistleblower complaint, ensure you include:

    • The specific retaliatory actions taken against you
    • The date(s) the retaliation occurred
    • The reasons you believe the retaliation is linked to your reporting of safety violations or other protected activities


OSHA Complaint Process

on site inspection by osha

Evaluating Employee Complaints

Once you file a complaint with OSHA, the process begins with initial contact from the agency:

  1. OSHA will acknowledge receipt of your complaint. This can be through email, phone call, or letter, depending on how the complaint was filed.
  2. OSHA may contact you to request additional details or clarification about the complaint to ensure they fully understand the nature of the violation and the potential risks involved.

Employer Response and Potential Investigation

After gathering sufficient information, OSHA will proceed with the next steps involving the employer:

  1. OSHA will inform the employer about the complaint. Depending on the nature of the complaint, OSHA might keep your identity confidential if you have requested anonymity.
  2. The employer is given an opportunity to respond to the complaint. They may be asked to provide documentation, evidence of compliance, or corrective action taken to address the reported hazards.
  3. If the complaint indicates serious hazards, OSHA may decide to conduct an on site inspection of the workplace. This involves OSHA compliance officers visiting the site to investigate the reported issues.
  4. Based on the findings, OSHA will determine if violations have occurred. If so, they may issue citations and require the employer to take corrective actions.

How the Worker is Kept Informed

Throughout the investigation, OSHA ensures that the worker who filed the complaint is kept informed about the progress and outcomes:

  1. OSHA will provide regular updates to the complainant about the status of the investigation. This may include information about any inspections conducted and responses from the employer.
  2. Once the investigation is complete, OSHA will share the final findings with the complainant. This includes details about any violations identified, citations issued, and corrective actions required of the employer.

Importance of Responding to OSHA Requests

It is crucial for the complainant to respond promptly to any requests from OSHA during the investigation process:

  1. Timely responses to OSHA’s requests for further information or clarification can significantly impact the efficiency and thoroughness of the investigation.
  2. Open and responsive communication ensures that OSHA can address all aspects of the complaint and gather the necessary evidence to support the case.
  3. By cooperating fully, the complainant helps OSHA obtain a complete and accurate understanding of workplace conditions, leading to more effective enforcement actions and resolution.


State-Specific Reporting

Some states have OSHA-approved state plans with additional regulations. Workers should check their state's Department of Labor website for any extra reporting requirements. Federal OSHA State Programs Directory is a valuable resource for this information.


Importance of Record Keeping

Workers are encouraged to do a record keeping of any safety concerns they raise with their employer, including dates and details of the reported issues. Maintaining detailed records of safety concerns is crucial for tracking recurring issues and providing evidence when filing OSHA complaints. These records hold employers accountable and protect employees' rights in case of retaliation. Accurate documentation helps improve workplace safety by identifying trends and enabling proactive measures.


FAQs about OSHA Violation Reporting

What is considered an OSHA complaint?

An OSHA complaint is a formal report filed by an employee or their representative alleging violations of workplace safety and health standards.

What are the rights of employees?

Employees have the right to a safe workplace, to report safety hazards without fear of retaliation, to receive information and training on workplace hazards, and to review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.

What happens when someone files an OSHA complaint?

When an OSHA complaint is filed, OSHA evaluates the complaint and may conduct an inspection of the workplace. The complainant is kept informed throughout the process, and corrective actions may be required of the employer.

What type of OSHA inspection is conducted when immediate death or serious harm is likely?

An imminent danger inspection is conducted when there is a likelihood of immediate death or serious harm in the workplace.

How long does your employer have to respond to a complaint sent to them from OSHA?

Employers generally have five days to respond to a complaint sent to them from OSHA.


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The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.