Other Laws: Occupational Safety and Health Act

The preceding chapters have discussed many of the most important, and most used, environmental statutes. A host of other statutes, however, may apply to a given situation. Most of these statutes are administered by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (EPD).

This section includes a high-level overview of another law you may encounter in pursuing environmental justice. This law may have exemptions or nuances that are beyond the scope of this section. If you have questions, please reach out to a lawyer for assistance. In addressing any environmental justice issue, one of your first tasks will be to determine which of these laws might apply to the situation you are facing.


Occupational Safety and Health Act

(29 U.S.C. §§ 651-678)

Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for all employees. It is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Although the Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs subject to OSHA approval and monitoring, Georgia does not have a state level plan and remains under federal OSHA jurisdiction, which covers most private-sector workers. State and local government workers are not covered by federal OSHA jurisdiction.

The Act’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers to make available and understandable to employees information on the hazards in their workplace, the chemicals they may be exposed to, and what measures they should take to protect themselves. The employers must provide safety data sheets (SDSs) (formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs) with information that includes chemical properties and information about health and safety, such as firefighting procedures, handling and storage procedures, and emergency and cleanup procedures.

OSHA has a whistleblower provision under which an employer is prohibited from discharging or discriminating against an employee who has exercised his or her rights under the Act. An employee may:

    • complain to OSHA and seek an OSHA inspection of the workplace;
    • participate in an OSHA inspection; and
    • participate or testify in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.

If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm and there is not enough time for OSHA to inspect, the employee may have a legal right to refuse to work.

If an employee believes there may be an unsafe or unhealthful workplace condition, OSHA recommends that the employee first notify his or her employer.

However, if the employer does not take action or if the employee does not feel comfortable approaching his or her employer, they may contact the local OSHA office directly to make a complaint.

The employee may file the complaint online or by fax, mail, or email. He or she may also ask OSHA not to reveal his or her name. In addition to employees, anyone who knows about a workplace safety or health hazard may report unsafe conditions to OSHA, and OSHA will investigate the concerns reported.