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Member Resources > Safety and Security

SAFETY AND SECURITY FAQ

Last Updated: February 02, 2015

Frequently asked questions about Safety and Security in the workplace:

What's Below:

What laws protect my right to a safe workplace?

Federal and state laws protect you from an unsafe workplace. The main federal law covering threats to workplace safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. 651 and following (the OSH Act, popularly known as OSHA). OSHA gives you a number of rights if you think that something unsafe is happening in your workplace.

Most state laws track the federal law fairly closely. To find out about your state law, contact your state labor department.

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What are some of the rights that OSHA gives me?

If your workplace poses an imminent threat to your life, OSHA gives you the right to refuse to work.

Even if your workplace does not pose imminent danger, however, OSHA gives you many important rights, and you can benefit from them only if you know about them and assert them.

The following is just a sample of some of your rights under the act:

  • You can get training from your employer on the health and safety standards that your employer must follow.

  • You can get training from your employer on any dangerous chemicals you are exposed to and on ways you can protect yourself from harm.

  • You can get training from your employer on any other health and safety hazards (such as construction hazards or bloodbourne pathogens) that might exist in your workplace.

  • You can request information from your employer about OSHA standards, worker injuries and illnesses, job hazards and workers' rights.

  • You can directly request your employer to cure any hazards or OSHA violations.

  • You can file a complaint with OSHA.

  • You can request that OSHA inspect your workplace.

  • You can find out the results of an OSHA inspection.

  • You can file a complaint with OSHA if your employer retaliates against you for asserting your rights under the act.

  • You can request the federal government to research possible workplace hazards.

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What steps should I take if I'm injured at work?

If you have been injured at work by a hazard that should be eliminated before it injures someone else, take the following steps as quickly as possible after obtaining the proper medical treatment.

  • Immediately file a claim for workers' compensation benefits so that your medical bills will be paid and you will be compensated for your lost wages and injury. In some states, the amount you receive from a workers' comp claim will be larger if a violation of a state workplace safety law contributed to your injury.

  • Point out to your employer that a continuing hazard or dangerous condition exists. As with most workplace safety complaints, the odds of getting action will be greater if other employees join in your complaint.

  • If your employer does not eliminate the hazard promptly, file a complaint with OSHA and any state or local agency that you think may be able to help. For example, if your complaint is about hazardous waste disposal, you may be able to track down a specific local group that has been successful in investigating similar complaints in the past.

  • If the hazard poses an imminent life threat to you or other workers, you can call OSHA's emergency line at 800-321-6742.

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Does OSHA protect against the harmful effects of tobacco smoke in the workplace?

OSHA rules apply to tobacco smoke only in rare and extreme circumstances, such as when contaminants created by a manufacturing process combine with tobacco smoke to create a dangerous workplace air supply that fails OSHA standards. Workplace air quality standards and measurement techniques are so technical that typically only OSHA agents or consultants who specialize in environmental testing are able to determine when the air quality falls below allowable limits.

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What is a respirator?

A respirator is an air-purifying filter, cartridge, or canister that removes harmful substances from the air, or one that provides a supply of breathable air from a clean source outside of the contaminated work area and includes supplied-air respirators (SARs) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units.  It can be a simple as a medical type mask or as elaborate as the type that firemen wear when entering a smoke filled building.  Under 29 CFR 1910.134 your employer must supply respirators when equipment is necessary to protect the health of the employee. The employer shall provide the respirators which are applicable and suitable for the purpose intended. The employer shall be responsible for the establishment and maintenance of a respiratory protection program. 

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What is medical surveillance and why is the union against it?

Medical surveillance is the DHS-CBP initiated medical monitoring of an employee's physical health when the employee has been assigned work duties that could put him or her at risk of being exposed to specific chemical, biological, or physical hazards.  In addition, those employees who are required to be in a respirator protection program must undergo a procedure known as a "FITS" test, which is a  CBP provided medical evaluation (clearance) to determine your ability to use a (mandatory use) respirator (before you are assigned to the work).  A questionnaire may also be used to determine your past medical history. A licensed health care provider (not yours, but one CBP chooses) then makes a decision (written opinion) about your ability to wear a respirator. If it is determined that a medical screening is needed due to responses to questions on the questionnaire or at the health care professionals determination, a medical screening exam is scheduled at CBP expense (with the physician of their choosing).    Currently, DHS-CBP has given no guarantees that this evaluation will not affect your future employment.  In essence, they "could" use the results of the test to determine that you are no longer physically fit to continue your assigned duties and terminate your employment; in essence they have created a non-negotiated condition of employment.  With out specific guarantees from DHS-CBP that this will not happen, the Union can not endorse a medical surveillance program.  Finally, remember that at this time you can not be ordered to participate in a medical surveillance program (that could change at the stroke of a pen).  If you decide to participate at this time, you are doing so against the best advice of your union (members beware). To read the CBP policy of medical surveillance click here.  For an example of a more "employee sensitive" Respiratory Protection program for Law Enforcement Officers, click here for a model program that was created and endorsed by the CALIFORNIA COMMISSION ON PEACE OFFICER STANDARDS AND TRAINING.

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What is a Health and Safety allegation and how can I submit one?

Simply put, a Health and Safety allegation is a report of a condition that exists in your work place that you believe constitutes a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. While a general knowledge of the Act would be helpful in determining if your employer is or is not breaking the law, it is not mandatory.  Within this act, there exists a common-sense clause known as "The General Duty Clause."  Within this clause, a complainant's allegation must have all four of the following elements present:

1.  There must be a condition or activity within the workplace that presents a hazard to an employee.
2.  The condition or activity is recognized as a hazard.
3.  The hazard is causing or is likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
4.  A feasible means exists to eliminate or materially reduce the hazard.

The objective of an allegation is twofold.  First, it seeks to protect union members from unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and second, it seeks to remove the hazard and ensure that the workplace remains a safe and healthy place to work. In extreme conditions where individual employees have been impacted, a grievance may be filed, which seeks some type of remedy for the affected individual.  The remedy may be in a form which makes the aggrieved party "whole."  Grievances never seek punitive damages as they are not provided for under existing labor law. 

WHAT TO DO TO FILE AN ALLEGATION

Ensure that you or a co-worker has reported the allegation to a "work site" supervisor.  Give them an opportunity to rectify the unsafe or unhealthy situation.  It they fail to act then:

  • Document everything related to the suspected Health and Safety violation.  Specifically, document the who, why, what, when, and where questions.

  • Be prepared to offer your recommendation in regards to removing the alleged threat to your health or safety in the work place.

  • Document your allegation either through the Union's Intranet Health and Safety Allegation Tracking Database or by contacting the Union's Director of Health and Safety via emailNOTE: You may remain anonymous, but identifying yourself will help in assuring that the allegation is not repeated, thus making your work place safe for all employees.  CLICK HERE FOR A TUTORIAL ON HOW TO FILE A HEALTH AND SAFETY ALLEGATION

  • The union will respond to your allegation by conducting a joint investigation with Sector's Safety Manager.  If the allegation is found to be based in fact and a violation of OSHA Law, the Union will work with management to correct the violation. If management is unwilling to correct the violation,  it may become necessary to file a grievance on your behalf in order to remove the threat or ensure that the work place is safe and healthy.   

    • Please note:  Once the union has filed a grievance, only a union representative can modify or withdraw the grievance.  Additionally, only the union can seek to settle the grievance. 

  • The grievance will be processed according to internal union procedures and Article 33 of the contract, beginning with a Step I filing (informal), unless otherwise provided by the contract.

  • Allegations may be filed without Union assistance by completing CBP Form 507, and forwarding it to the Sector Safety Manager.  Please call your sector's Safety Manager directly for more information and help in reporting your allegation.

What if I suspect that my office's indoor air quality is poor?

Indoor air quality is affected by both what happens inside the building and what goes on outside. Pollutants inside the workplace include gasses coming from the glues used to install new carpets and pesticide residues. Outdoor pollutants include fumes from idling cars or trucks and dusts from nearby construction sites.

Health Effects

There are three types of health problems related to poor air quality:

  • Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

  • Building-Related Illness (BRI)

  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

Sick building syndrome describes buildings in which the occupants suffer a variety of symptoms when they spend time in the building. Symptoms include:

  • Headaches

  • Throat Irritation

  • Watery Eyes

  • Stuffy Nose

  • Lethargy, Drowsiness

  • Skin Rashes

There is no specific illness --no medical diagnosis-- and these symptoms often disappear when the employee leaves the building.

Building-related illness is a medically-diagnosed illness usually attributed to airborne building contaminants. The most common building-related illness is Legionnaires' Disease, which is caused by bacteria present in the water which cause a respiratory problem.

In 1991, Legionnaires' Disease killed two people and infected 13 employees at the Richmond, California Payment Service Center. The infected employees did not know that they had it. They assumed they had a cold or flu. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, chills and muscle aches. People with low immune systems and smokers are more susceptible to Legionnaires' Disease.

Multiple chemical sensitivity develops after repeated exposure to chemicals which trigger allergic reactions. After a while, the individual becomes so sensitive that they have a reaction when they are exposed to almost any chemical in their environment.

Causes of Poor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality may be caused by:

Insufficient Fresh Air. Building problems often result from stale air within a facility and closed-off building air intake. When the amount of fresh air is less than what is required for the space and number of people in the building, people may start experiencing symptoms of sick building syndrome.

Air Contaminants. Most chemical air contaminants come from inside the building. Carpeting, upholstery, cleaning agents, copier toner, and manufactured wood products can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde.

There are also air contaminants that come from outside the building. For example, car exhaust and combustion products. Air contaminants may be gasses, vapors, dusts, fumes, mists or fibers. Neighboring businesses can also impact office air quality. For example, an SSA office in Oregon was affected by a nearby beauty salon. The odor from the nail removal chemicals entered the office through the HVAC system and caused employees to become ill.

Biological Contaminants. Bacteria microbes can grow in HVAC systems and places where dirt and water have accumulated. Places such as ventilation system drip pans, roof leaks, and wet wall surfaces. When bacteria become airborne, they can enter the building's ventilation system and spread from worker to worker.

Microorganisms thrive in:

  • organic nutrients

  • moisture

  • growing surface

  • dark environment

The mold grows in this habitat and releases spores that are then carried throughout the structure by the HVAC system. Microbes can contaminate wall surfaces, ceiling panels, or air ducts. Keeping the HVAC system in good working order will eliminate these four ingredients for microbes growth.

Improper System Balancing. The construction of new walls, the installation of new furniture cubicles, and office expansion can create a need for a larger system. Signs of problems can be hot and cold spots within an office area.

The EPA has published a booklet on what building occupants can do to work with building managers to resolve indoor air quality problems. The booklet, An Office Building Occupant's Guide to Indoor Air Quality, is available from EPA (202) 564-9370 or on the Internet at www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/occupgd.html.

Investigating the Problem

If you suspect there is an indoor air problem in your facility, work with your agency through your local to investigate the problem and to find a solution. The investigation will likely include:

Walkthrough: Basic investigation in which you walk around the building looking at the general condition of the building. You should look at the mechanical system of the building and look at air intakes and exhausts. Talk to employees about the problems they are experiencing. Talk to building personnel about the system maintenance and areas where they've seen problems.

Preliminary Investigation: This may include some air testing to measures the levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and microorganisms.

Baseline Evaluation: This is a more in-depth investigation that will show the status of the building. It can be used to compare to measurements after abatement and to monitor changes in the future.

Periodic Evaluation: Helps to make sure things are working right. This evaluation should be on a regular basis and compared to the baseline measurements.

Employee Complaints: Always ask people about their experiences.

 

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