Infestation in Federal Building. Management Apathetic

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an unhealthy workplace:

I work in a warehouse that sells groceries and it has been infested with rats for months. There are visible droppings all over and the smell is horrible. Management was warned before it ever became this bad, back when precautions could still be taken. They have ignored all warnings and aren’t making any significant efforts to fix the problem, or clean up problem areas. Mice have even been seen on sales floor. There are a few traps out, but not helping.
Those of us who work in the warehouse are constantly sick, and we are starting to think it’s because of working in these conditions. What steps can we take as federal employees to take care of this? We don’t want to be sick, nor do we want to work in contaminated conditions, and we definitely don’t want our customers to buy these products. What can we do?

Signed—What Should We Do?

Dear What Can We Do?

You are right to be concerned and frustrated. We are communication advisors, not OSHA. But there is help for submitting complaints and I’ve copied those below. Before going it alone, please realize that the word WE matters. You say: “We don’t want to be sick, nor do we want to work in contaminated conditions, and we definitely don’t want our customers to buy these products. What can we do?”

Enlist coworkers who are included in WE. Prepare a straight forward description such as you have sent us and get their signatures. You mention that management of your facility has been warned but has not corrected the infestation. You will have to decide if management was firmly informed and if so, if it deserves a second chance before you seek outside help. If you were in charge of the building, how would you want employees to register a complaint? Follow your best judgement. For example, you might show them the petition and enlist their help. Or you might bring this matter to the union, if you have one.

You don’t have to make a federal case out this, but photos and eye-witness statements will help get action. I’ve submitted your question to one of our alumni who has a business of OSHA consulting companies. If he has time to add his comments to these I’m sending, I will forward them.

For now, confer with those in your WE group and take action. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and together you can make things happen.

Now read the advice below:

How to File a Safety and Health Complaint

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gives employees and their representatives the right to file a complaint and request an OSHA inspection of their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or their employer is not following OSHA standards. Workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file a complaint. The complaint should be filed as soon as possible after noticing the hazard or lack of compliance because OSHA citations may only be issued for violations that currently exist or existed in the past 6 months.

Online – Go to the Online Complaint Form

Written complaints that are signed by workers or their representative and submitted to an OSHA Area or Regional office are more likely to result in onsite OSHA inspections. Complaints received on line from workers in OSHA-approved state plan states will be forwarded to the appropriate state plan for response.

There’s also instructions for submitting a complaint by FAX or phone.

FOLLOW UP As promised, I am forwarding advice from one, Robert Byers, who advises regarding OSHA:

Great to hear from you:
I see multiple problems with this scenario from a legal standpoint, not to mention the public relations nightmare it presents.
My advice – legally – is that these employees have protection under the law to call OSHA and report their employer for violations of several standards.
Section 5 (a) (1) of OSHA law states the employer must provide a safe workplace to the employer, free from any recognized hazards that could cause serious physical harm to the employee. It appears that this is both recognized and is causing harm to the employees. The condition known as “sick building syndrome” has resulted from less reported hazards than these.
OSHA standard 1910.22 (a) states that all places of employment shall be kept clean and orderly and in sanitary condition. Again apparently in violation. and that is just the OSHA angle. I have less knowledge on the USDA side but can not imagine the facility would pass that audit either.
Call the local OSHA office to investigate. The call can kept be anonymous from the employer.
Hope that helps,
Bob Byers
Customized Training & Development LLC
OSHA Safety Training and Consultation


William Gorden