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Apr 25, 2024 | Amir Khafagy

Is Your Job Unsafe? Start a Workplace Safety Committee  

A new law gives workers the right to form safety committees at their workplace.

It’s a dangerous time to be a worker in New York right now. In 2022, there were 83 fatal workplace injuries, up from 70 just the year before. Latino workers accounted for 40 percent of those who died. Many of the workers died doing low-paid non-union jobs in the construction industry

Now thanks to a new law, workers have been given a new tool to make their workplace safer: Workplace Safety Committees.

On Dec. 28, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law Senate Bill 9450, which includes new amendments to the New York Health And Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act) that was first passed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. 

Although the original law gave workers the right to form workplace safety committees, it had no mechanism for enforcement. The new amendment, which immediately took effect on Dec. 28, 2022, now includes enforcement. 

What is the Law?

The law gives workers the right to form workplace safety committees if they choose to do so. Employers are required to inform employees of their right to form a committee and they are required to recognize the committee within five business days from the time they have been notified by the workers.  

Also Read: Immigrant Construction Workers Secure Victory in 4-Year Battle for Improved Workplace Safety

Despite this, the law does not state what the exact steps are to organize a committee, so workers are left to determine that for themselves. 

If an employer fails to recognize the committee, they will be issued a fine from the New York State Department of Labor of $50 a day until they comply. 

Job sites can only have one committee. Workers and employers both have a right to select representatives to the committee safety but at least two-thirds of the members are reserved for workers. Worker members of the committee are chosen by the workers themselves and are not to be interfered with by the employer. 

The law does not elaborate on how large a committee can be. 

What are the committee’s rights?

Committees are co-chaired by a representative of both the employer and the workers. Employers are not allowed to interfere with the selection of employees who will sit on the committee. 

Each workplace safety committee and its designated members have the right to perform the following tasks, including but not limited to:

  • Raise any health and safety concerns as well as complaints and violations to their employer. Employers must respond to concerns brought to them. 
  • Workers have the right to review any policy put in place by their employer relating to occupational safety and health. Workers have the right to provide feedback on those policies. 
  • Workers have the right to review the adoption of any policy in the workplace in response to any health or safety law, ordinance, rule, regulation, executive order, or other related directive, before it is enacted.
  • Workers have the right to participate in any site visit by any governmental entity such as OSHA that is responsible for enforcing safety and health standards unless otherwise prohibited by law.
  • Review any report filed to government agencies by the employer related to the health and safety of the workplace.
  • Workers can schedule regular meetings to discuss safety issues or concerns during work hours at least once every three months that last no longer than two hours.

Will I get in trouble if I form a committee? 

All workers have a right to form a safety committee. Workers who participate in the activities or establishment of a workplace safety committee are legally protected from retaliation.  

If employers retaliate against workers or refuse to acknowledge the formation of a workplace safety committee, the commissioner of the DOL may order “other appropriate relief” for violations. The law is vague on what that relief may look like.

For information on how to form a committee or to file a complaint contact the DOL here.

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