In California Cal/OSHA is the agency responsible for enforcing OSH standards; however, administrative action through Cal/OSHA is not always sufficient or appropriate.

Enforcement Beyond the Administrative System: OSH Prosecution

When Cal/OSHA receives a serious complaint, the agency is responsible for investigating the hazard or incident and for citing responsible parties and enforcing abatement of the hazard. This is the main system by which OSH regulations are enforced, but it does not always produce sufficient results. Sometimes there is an ongoing hazard, the full abatement of which the administrative system is unable to enforce, or there are responsible parties who cannot be held sufficiently accountable via Cal/OSHA. Or sometimes Cal/OSHA simply does not act.

In these situations, there are laws by which government attorneys have the authority to seek enforcement via judicial means. This judicial action takes two forms: criminal prosecution and civil prosecution. Generally, when administrative enforcement measures are unsuccessful, Cal/OSHA will contact the appropriate government attorney’s office to initiate civil or criminal enforcement, but often enough the matter is left to work its way through the administrative system even if the results are unsatisfactory.

Workers and other private citizens can get involved at this point by going directly to government attorneys to encourage their involvement. However, this is not easy to do. Read more about OSH prosecution to learn about the different areas of law that allow for civil and criminal prosecution and how to request judicial action on these grounds.

Private Remedies

Cal/OSHA will not redress an individual worker’s OSH-related injuries or illnesses even if it is determined that there was a violation of OSH regulations on the part of the employer. Workers pursuing individual rights (redress for work-related injuries or illnesses), must seek relief for damages either in the workers’ compensation system or through independent legal action.

Workers' Compensation
This is a no-fault system which allows workers to receive some compensation (by no means fullor even reasonablecompensation) for injuries on the job without having to prove that the employer did something negligent or wrong. Through this system a worker can obtain temporary disability, all medical expenses, permanent disability (if needed), and vocational rehabilitation (if needed this is a very limited amount).

Suing someone other than your employer
Workers compensation does provide a safety net for injured workers regardless of fault. However, it does not provide full relief. In certain cases a worker may be able to file a civil lawsuit (tort) for damages or other relief against a third party who is normally someone other than the employer (although in rare cases these civil lawsuits may be filed against the employer).

How to Select an Attorney
Many of these approaches require the services of an attorney. This document gives some background explaining what services an attorney can provide (and what they cannot provide), what to look for in attorney, and how attorney fees work.