AND SECURITY FAQ
February 02, 2015
Frequently asked questions about Safety and
Security in the 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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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
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
You can find out the results of an
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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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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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?
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
here. For an example of a more "employee sensitive"
program for Law Enforcement Officers,
for a model program that was created and endorsed by the
CALIFORNIA COMMISSION ON
PEACE OFFICER STANDARDS AND TRAINING.
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a Health and Safety allegation and how can I
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
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
Document your allegation either through the
Safety Allegation Tracking Database or by contacting the Union's
Health and Safety via
NOTE: 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.
The grievance will be processed according to internal union
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
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.
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:
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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.