If a worker has a good faith reasonable belief that working conditions are an imminent danger, then the worker has the legal right not to perform the work. It is important that the worker notify the employer of the dangerous condition and the imminent danger as soon as possible. Generally speaking, a worker cannot “walk off the job” unless there is a good faith reasonable belief by the worker that remaining on the job could result in serious injury or death and there is not sufficient time for the employer to correct the dangerous situation.
What does it mean “acting in good faith” when refusing to perform the work? It means that a reasonable person could believe that a dangerous condition existed and that it posed an imminent danger to the worker, even if no such danger actually existed at the time.
What hazardous conditions are considered an “imminent danger”? OSHA defines imminent danger as, “… any conditions or practices in any place of employment which are such that a danger exists which could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the enforcement procedures…”
According to OSHA, “the following conditions must be met before a hazard becomes an imminent danger:
- There must be a threat of death or serious physical harm. “Serious physical harm” means that a part of the body is damaged so severely that it cannot be used or cannot be used very well.
- For a health hazard there must be a reasonable expectation that toxic substances or other health hazards are present and exposure to them will shorten life or cause substantial reduction in physical or mental efficiency. The harm caused by the health hazard does not have to happen immediately.
- The threat must be immediate or imminent. This means that you must believe that death or serious physical harm could occur within a short time, for example before OSHA could investigate the problem.
If an OSHA inspector believes that an imminent danger exists, the inspector must inform affected employees and the employer that he is recommending that OSHA take steps to stop the imminent danger and has the right to ask a federal court to order the employer to eliminate the imminent danger.
If you believe there is a dangerous condition at work, first, notify your employer and ask for other work until the dangerous condition is corrected by the employer. Second, the worker should contact U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to request an inspection by filing a health and safety complaint. Complaints from workers are taken seriously by OSHA and OSHA will keep your information confidential.