What to Do If Safety Guards or Devices Have Been Removed or Not Installed at Your Workplace
One of the most common types of cases we work on is the on-the-job injury. Of those injuries, there is one kind that I absolutely hate to see: someone getting hurt because a safety guard or device was removed or not installed. Sadly, I’ve seen it too many times to count. A boss or some production supervisor wants things done more quickly and efficiently, and that pesky safety device keeps getting in the way. So they remove it, take it off, or just flat out refuse to install it. Guards and rails are removed. Light curtains taken out. Safety switches are bypassed. When that happens, people lose fingers, arms, toes, or worse, they are killed. Safety should be the number one priority in the workplace, but sometimes, it isn’t.
So what do you do when you see that a safety device or guard has been removed, bypassed, disabled, or not installed? The best thing to do takes a little courage and some faith in the legal system. By law, you have the right to report known safety violations to your employer. The key is that your report MUST be in writing. Just telling someone isn’t enough. Write it down, and save a copy for yourself. Give one to your supervisor, the head safety person, and if you want, to your regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office.
Of course, it takes courage to make such a report. You may be concerned about getting fired, disciplined, or worse yet, blackballed. That’s when you are going to have to have some faith in the legal system and in a good lawyer to represent you if necessary. Alabama law gives you a legal remedy if you report a safety violation in writing and are terminated. That law says:
No employee shall be terminated by an employer solely because the employee has instituted or maintained any action against the employer to recover workers’ compensation benefits under this chapter or solely because the employee has filed a written notice of violation of a safety rule . . . .
Alabama Code, 25-5-11.1 (emphasis added). Similar protections exist under federal law when you report the violation to your regional office.
Most of the time, it is never going to go that far. Smart employers know these protections exist, and will work to fix safety violations when reported, rather than take it out against the employee. In the event that doesn’t happen, the law is on your side.
So, as they saying goes, “See something, say something,” or in this case WRITE something. On-the-job injuries need to be prevented when they can. Workers should not have to rely on lawyers to put the pieces back together when they get hurt.