Working Collectively is Important. It is most important for workers to come together to solve workplace problems, and a union provides workers with the best means to address health and safety concerns with management. Being an active member of your union, including participating in a union health and safety committee (and urging the formation of such a committee if one doesn’t exist) is critical to making the workplace safe. Collective bargaining agreements may also contain language protecting worker health and safety that is better than existing laws and regulations.
Labor-management health and safety committees with real labor participation can make a difference. In addition to union health and safety committees, some unions have initiated labor-management health and safety committees. These programs, when functioning properly, can significantly improve safety and health on the job. The labor participants in these programs must receive adequate safety and health training paid for by their employer, paid time to carry out the tasks that are required, and assurance that they won’t be fired for speaking out.
For more information regarding union and labor-management safety committees, see Union & Worker Action
Attorneys can be very helpful, but remain an Advocate even when working with an Attorney. Finally, if injuries, illnesses or deaths do occur in the workplace, it is important for workers and their families to obtain sound legal advice. There are different remedies, depending on the facts and on the law of each state. General information about Workers’ Compensation or Third Party Lawsuits, and about Selecting an Attorney is posted, but cannot take the place of consulting with a specialist in these areas of law.
The law places the primary duty on the employer to provide a safe place to work. However, workers and their unions have an important role to play in enforcing this responsibility at job sites. Workers best understand their job site, work processes, and the hazards they may face. The key to effective union and worker action on the job is getting organized: educating about workers’ rights and how to enforce them, how to prevent injuries and illnesses, and how to secure prompt abatement of workplace hazards.
Safety and Health Committees
One important way workers can protect themselves on the job is through safety and health committees. Your union can bring together a committee of union members, staff and elected officials. And your union can establish with management a joint labor-management health and safety committee. Committees provide workers a way to be involved and aware and also may give workers some authority to oversee and enforce workplace safety.
Unions can form committees for a specific job (in construction) or for a fixed work site. This fact sheet[PDF] explains the different types of safety committees, how they work and how to start one.
Joint Labor-Management Committees
These committees are established via negotiation with an employer, and this fact sheet [PDF] provides sample contract language for establishing such a committee.
Fact Sheets: Raising Awareness at Work
Workers need to know their rights and the procedures for enforcing them. Feel free to copy the fact sheets to give workers the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe on the job.
You have the right to a safe place to work.
If your employer refuses to correct an unsafe or unhealthy work condition.
Workers’ Rights and Employers’ Responsibilities
In California, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health or Cal/OSHA is the government agency responsible for enforcing the employers’ duty to provide a safe and healthful place to work. On the Cal/OSHA website is an outline of some of the main rights guaranteed to workers and some of the main responsibilities incumbent on employers regarding workplace safety and health. Follow these links:
Cal/OSHA: Employers’ Responsibilities