Safe working conditions are vital to every employee. If you’re faced with an unsafe working condition in Hawaii, there are things you can do. Recovery Law Center’s workers’ compensation lawyer in Hawaii explains how to report unsafe working conditions in our state.
How Do I Report Unsafe Working Conditions in Hawaii?
Report an unsafe working condition by calling Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health at (808) 586-9092.
In person, by mail
830 Punchbowl Street #425.
Honolulu, HI 96813
To file the report, you’ll need to provide the employer’s name and location, management and a description of the hazards. You can indicate whether you want your name revealed to the employer, but understand that is within the discretion of investigators. You must sign the complaint (e-signature is accepted).
What Happens When You Report Unsafe Working Conditions in Hawaii?
Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, receives and investigates reports of unsafe working conditions in Hawaii. If there are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a hazard, Occupational Safety and Health will conduct an inspection. If the department chooses not to take compliance action, they must notify the employee or representative of employees and provide the reason. Hawaii Revised Statutes § 396-8(b),(d).
What can happen to the employer because of an unsafe working condition?
An employer who fails to comply with occupational safety laws may be penalized with:
- A civil penalty of up to $12,675 per violation
- Each day a violation continues is a separate violation, except during an abatement period
- Fines of up to $126,749 for willful or repeated violations
- When death occurs as a result of willful or repeated violations, a fine or imprisonment of up to one year
- A fine up to $9,054 or six months imprisonment for providing advance notice of a safety inspection
- Mandatory posting of the citation, order or notice of violation including abatement
- Enhanced potential criminal penalties for any criminal offenses committed against an employee of the state enforcing occupational safety laws
An employer can pursue abatement and appeals that may alter findings and penalties. They may pursue an appeal in the circuit court where the place of employment, practice or process occurs. H.R.S. § 396-12.
Examples of Unsafe Working Conditions
- Storing, using or dealing in explosives without a certificate of fitness as required by H.R.S. § 396-9.
- Working without adequate fall protection including barriers, harnesses and railings
- Improper storage of flammable and corrosive chemicals
- Failing to require appropriate training to operate industrial equipment
- Leaving vehicles and equipment in service when they need maintenance
- Fire hazards including not having fire extinguishers where needed and blocking exits
- Inadequate personal protective equipment
- Biological dangers including unsanitary conditions and poor handling of biological agents used in work
- Flooring hazards like wet and uneven surfaces
- Having workers perform tasks with inadequate safety checks and measures
- Operating equipment without appropriate inspections before use
- Improper verbal warnings and placarding to warn of potentially dangerous conditions
- Noise exposure
- Poor industrial lighting
- Allowing worker intoxication
The exact requirements of an employer depend on the nature of the work and the risks that can be mitigated.
Retaliatory discipline in reporting an unsafe work environment
H.R.S. § 396-8(e) prohibits retaliation against workers for exercising their right to report an unsafe condition. An employer may not discharge or discriminate against an employee who reports a dangerous working condition in good faith.
Can you refuse to work because of unsafe work conditions?
Yes, you can refuse to work because of an unsafe work condition. You may not be discharged, suspended or otherwise discriminated against because you refuse to:
- Operate a machine
- Handle a device
- Use an apparatus
- Operate equipment
- Engage in a practice
- Violate a standard, rule, regulation, citation or order under the law
because of a safety hazard.
To be able to refuse work without penalty, the following must be true:
- You asked, and the employer failed to eliminate the danger
- The situation is urgent. There’s no time to go through enforcement channels or wait for an inspection
- You genuinely believe that there is imminent danger (you’re acting in good faith)
- There is a real danger of injury or death, based on a reasonable person standard
To protect yourself, it’s always best to ask your employer to address the issue first. They have the option to assign you other work. You should stay at the work site until your employer tells you to leave.
Anti-retaliation laws apply to filing a complaint and other protected activity, including:
- Filing a complaint
- Instituting a proceeding
- Causing a proceeding to begin
- Intending to testify
- Exercising rights
- Helping an employee exercise their rights
If you believe retaliation has occurred, you have 60 days to file a whistleblower complaint alleging the discharge or discrimination. An investigation will occur, and the employer may be required to reinstate the employee with back pay and seniority.
Duty of Employer to Mitigate Dangerous Working Conditions
Hawaii Statutes Chapter 396 is the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Law. The purpose of the law is to establish and enforce minimum standards of industrial safety. Workplace injury and disease can be reduced by promoting safe and healthful working conditions. (§ 396-2). The Hawaii State Plan applies in Hawaii, including private and public sector employees. OSHA covers federal employees.
At the most basic level, employers must comply with a general duty to mitigate recognized hazards in the workplace. In addition, there are specific standards that apply to certain industries. These regulations cover a variety of topics including fire protection, egress, radiation, fumes, illumination, tools, electrical, fall protection, demolition, diving and other topics.
Talk to a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Hawaii
Have you been hurt by unsafe working conditions at your job? Recovery Law Center represents people who are hurt, including injured workers. We handle workers’ compensation and personal injury claims. To talk about a situation you are facing and any potential legal claim, contact us for your consultation.