Fix My Job

Old, Broken, Unsafe Equipment

Does your workplace sometimes remind you of the fictional “Island of Misfit Toys” – full of broken, battered, and just plain ancient stuff?

Does your workplace sometimes remind you of the fictional “Island of Misfit Toys” – full of broken, battered, and just plain ancient stuff?

Some equipment problems – the computer that won’t boot, the copier that jams – are just a costly annoyance. But many – bald tires on that company van, a defective deep fryer, a cracked bolt – are downright dangerous. No on-the-job problem is more serious than unsafe working conditions. Every year, millions of Americans are injured on the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2011:

“472 workers were fatally injured after being struck by objects or equipment, including 219 workers who were struck by falling objects or equipment and 192 who were struck by powered vehicles or mobile equipment not in normal operation.”

“Equipment not in normal operation?” That means that your employer is being lax – perhaps even criminally lax – in maintaining the tools of your trade. They might think they’re saving a buck or two by skimping on inspections, repairs, and replacements. But the loss of productivity – and the fines and lawsuits resulting from an unsafe workplace – will cost them more in the long run. And the cost to you and your co-workers can be incalculable, if you get hurt as a result of faulty equipment.

What to do about old, broken, or unsafe equipment

If the bad equipment is not an occupational hazard:

If the problem’s not dangerous to you or your co-workers, you should still try to address the situation. Talk to your co-workers; chances are the bum tools are bumming them out, too. Then talk to your boss. Explain how much better you and your colleagues could do your jobs if you had properly functioning equipment. If your boss won’t listen and you have a union rep, bring the matter up with him or her.

If the bad equipment is an occupational hazard:

You have a legal right to a safe workplace. Your employer has the legal responsibility to maintain that workplace. And yes, you’ve got the responsibility of taking action if you see a dangerous situation.

  1. Tell your boss immediately. If your boss has got some faulty wiring as well and does not respond, go to your boss’s boss. Talk to your co-workers, too, and get them involved. If you are a union member, let your rep know.
  2. If your employer won’t act, report them to the authorities. You should file a complaint directly with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You can do it confidentially, if you choose. If you are in a state that has an OSHA-approved state program, you contact that program. If you work for a federal agency, that agency regulates workplace safety for you. And if there is any imminent danger to life and limb, call this number now:1-800-321-OSHA.
  3. If you have co-workers who see things the same way you do, get them to file complaints too.
  4. If all else fails, contact a labor attorney.

Useful Links

Federal agency: OSHA site gives all the information you need on your rights

Legal information: OSHA: Complying With Workplace Health and Safety Laws,” at NOLO.com  

Nonprofit website: National Council on Occupational Safety and Health has resources and info for workplace safety advocates

You are probably asking yourself some questions.

  1. Can my employer take revenge? The answer is no. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for reporting unsafe conditions. Check out what Fix My Job has to say about Whistle-blowers.
  2. When faced with an unhealthy situation, can I refuse to work? The answer is yes, but only if you follow all the steps that OSHA lays out here. If you are in a union, you can ask for your union rep when you see a safety hazard on the job.