It is important to take any and all health hazards serious. It is also just as important to understand how to report and have them addressed appropriately so that they can no longer be a hazard to you, or anyone else in the workplace. This brief overview will hopefully get you on the right track and answer some basic questions you have regarding Health Hazard Evaluations.
What is a Health Hazard Evaluation?
A study of the workplace to determine whether workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions is known as a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE). Once an initial contact is made by an employee to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), one of three things will happen based on the information provided. These include:
- An NIOSH staff member will respond in writing with specific information or refer them to a more appropriate agency.
- A phone call will be made by a NIOSH staff member to discuss the issue and attempt to resolve it accordingly.
- A NIOSH member or team will visit the workplace. The NIOSH team will then meet with the employer and employee representative to discuss the concern. They will also conduct a tour of the facility. They can then review any records about exposure to health, interview or survey employees, measure exposures, and do medical testing if they feel it is necessary. Upon completion of the evaluation, a written report will be provided to the employer and the employee representative by NIOSH. This can take anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the evaluation.
Can Anyone Request an HHE?
Any employee that is currently under employment at the workplace of concern and has signatures from two other employees can request an HHE. If the workplace has three employees or less, then only one signature is required to request an HHE.
An officer of a labor union that represents employees for collective bargaining can request an HHE.
Any management official may request an HHE on behalf of the employer.
Am I Anonymous?
If the person indicates properly on the initial request, NIOSH will not reveal any names to the employer of person(s) making the request.
State or Local Government Workplaces
If the workplace is part of a State or local government, the power of the NIOSH is significantly lower than with private and federal sectors. It is possible that the cooperation of the employer may be necessary before NIOSH can do an evaluation.
How Do I Know When To Request An HHE?
Anytime there is a concern with a health hazard in the workplace, you can request an HHE, file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or request help from the OSHA Consultative Service. There are several things to consider for each of these options shown below.
Requesting an HHE from NIOSH
You are an employee, employee representative , or employer and the following apply:
Employees have an illness from an unknown cause.
Employees are exposed to an agent or working condition that is not regulated by OSHA.
Employees experience adverse health effects from exposure to a regulated or unregulated agent or working condition, even though permissible exposure limit is not being exceeded.
Medical or epidemiological investigations are needed to evaluate the hazard.
The incidence of a particular disease or injury is higher than expected in a group of employees.
The exposure is to a new or previously unrecognized hazard. The hazard seems to result from the combined effects of several agents.
Requesting Help From The OSHA Consultation Program
If you are a small business owner you can receive the following from the consultation program:
Assistance in recognizing hazards in your workplace.
Suggestions or options for correcting safety and health issues.
Assistance in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health program.
Help improving workers compensation costs and improving employee morale.
Details on the OSHA On-site Consultation Program include:
Delivered by state (and territorial) governments using well-trained safety and health professionals.
It’s separate from enforcement.
No citations, penalties, or fines will be issued.
A confidential, written report will be provided to summarized the consultant’s findings.
Requires the correction of hazards identified by the consultant(s).
Under specific circumstances, employers with exemplary safety and health programs can be recommended for recognition and provided with an exclusion from general schedule inspections.
Filing A Complaint With OSHA
If you are an employee and the following situations apply:
Immediate enforcement by a regulatory agency is needed.
Employees want the employer to comply with existing health and safety standards.
The hazard is well recognized.
An OSHA standard is known to adequately protect employees from the hazard.
There are seven legal rights of NIOSH and employees or employee representatives that NIOSH considers to be non-negotiable that you should be aware of.
- NIOSH and its representatives have the right to enter the workplace to conduct HHE investigations.
- NIOSH and its representatives have the right to access information and records maintained by the employer that are pertinent to the HHE investigation.
- NIOSH and employees (including management employees) have the right to private and confidential interviews.
- Employee representatives, including an employee requester and a representative of any union representing the affected employees, have the right to accompany NIOSH investigators during the initial inspection of any workplace to be evaluated. NIOSH investigators may have additional employee representatives accompany them if necessary to aid the investigation.
- Employee representatives have the right to participate in an opening and closing conference with NIOSH investigators at the start and conclusion of a NIOSH investigation at the workplace.
- Employees have the right to wear NIOSH sampling devices and participate in medical tests when offered or requested by NIOSH.
- Employees have the right to read or obtain copies of all HHE interim and final reports. The employer is required to post the final report in the workplace for 30 days, or supply a list of names and addresses of affected employees so that NIOSH can mail them the report directly.