Can I Refuse to Work in Unsafe Conditions?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 26, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Every year, over 5,000 people die from on the job accidents and injuries. Nearly 50,000 die from exposure related illnesses, and over four million workers suffer non-fatal work related injuries and illnesses.

Work should not be dangerous. You're not a soldier. You didn't sign up to risk your life for your company. So, can you refuse to work in unsafe conditions?


Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) in 1970 to protect workers from dangerous conditions that cause injury, illness, or death at work. In Section 5 of the act, it states, "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

While the act does not allow you to refuse to do your job because of potentially unsafe conditions, a regulation under the act does protect you from subsequent discrimination if you to refuse to do a job because you have a good faith belief that the work puts you in imminent danger and cause death or serious physical harm.

What to Do About Unsafe Conditions

If you believe that there are unsafe conditions at your work place, you should:

  • Notify your employer of the hazard;
  • Ask your employer to correct the hazard;
  • Ask your employer for other work or different duties;
  • File a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration or your state's OSHA; and
  • Stay at work until your employer orders you to leave.

The OSH Act generally does not protect you if you just walk out of work because of unsafe conditions. Follow these steps and let OSHA do the enforcement.

Refuse to do Work

However, according to the Department of Labor, you can refuse to do work if all of the following conditions are met:

  • You asked your employer to fix a dangerous conditions, but the employer failed to do so;
  • You have a good faith belief that you are in imminent danger if you do the work;
  • A reasonable person would also believe that the work would cause death or serious injury; and
  • There isn't enough time to fix the danger by going through regular channels of making a complaint and requesting an OSHA inspection.

If you've been fired or the employer has withheld pay because you refused to work under dangerous conditions, an experienced employment lawyer may be able to help.

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