Too often, workers get incomplete information and insufficient health and safety training from their employers. Workers need to be informed about the hazards they may encounter, how to perform their job tasks safely, and what they can do to address hazardous conditions. They also need information on how to access workers’ compensation after suffering a job-related injury or illness.
Various laws and regulations require employers to make specific kinds of information available and to provide certain types of training, but these requirements are piecemeal in nature and often leave workers with only a partial understanding of the hazards they face, their employers’ duties to eliminate or manage the hazards, and how to exercise their rights.
What’s the Solution?
Improving education and training requirements could ensure that workers have the information they need to demand better occupational health and safety protections. To get a full picture of the health and safety aspects of their jobs, workers need to know about all potential hazards, past and present exposures to any hazards that may be variable (e.g., chemical exposures), the type and severity of the harm the hazard may cause, the legal requirements employers have to eliminate hazards, and the mechanisms for redress when injuries or illnesses occur.
State legislatures in all states can take the simple step of requiring employers to inform workers about the education and training requirements that apply to their jobs and about workers’ compensation. In states approved by federal OSHA to oversee their own occupational health and safety plans (state-plan states), state law could also expand on federal education and training requirements by, for example, requiring a more comprehensive hazard analysis and communication program. However, in states where federal OSHA has jurisdiction, the federal OSH Act bars the state from imposing any requirements that exceed the minimum federal standards. Even without legislation, union contracts could impose information-sharing and enhanced training requirements.
Insufficient Education and Training for Temp Workers. Insufficient training and education is especially problematic for temporary workers. In fact, federal OSHA launched an initiative in 2013 to protect temp workers and clarify the joint responsibilities of staffing agencies and host employers. Read how OSHA Region 4 responded to the death of Day Davis, a temporary worker killed on his first day at a Bacardi plant because he wasn’t trained on equipment hazards or safe use procedures. For more on this tragedy and the challenges temp workers face, read ProPublica’s article, Temporary Work, Lasting Harm.
Training Requirements in State Standards. Several states have adopted stronger standards than Fed-OSHA, as well as some standards that address hazards for which there is no existing federal standard. For a database of all hazard-specific OSH standards not adopted from federal OSHA in the 25 states with their own OHS agencies, check out LawAtlas: The Policy Surveillance Portal, a collaborative project of Public Citizen & the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research Program. For an example of a state law designed to protect temporary workers, see the Massachusetts Temporary Worker’s Right to Know Act.
Advocates in state-plan states campaigning for legislative improvements may wish to look at this comprehensive WorkSafe! report from 1999, calling California Governor Gray Davis and the California Legislature to take action to protect workers in their state. Note that the OSH Act’s preemption provisions bar legislators in federal OHSA states from expanding education and training requirements. Read the 1992 Supreme Court decision on the matter.
Accessing Workers Compensation. Most states require employers to post basic information about workers’ compensation, but workers deserve to know more. California’s workers’ compensation regulations provide a useful example of state disclosure requirements. California also requires employers to provide workers with a “Time of Hire” pamphlet that explains workers’ compensation in detail, but still in plain, easy-to-understand language.