Office Stink: OSHA, Workers Rights Dismissed

When bad work smell offends management, a stink is brewing. Standing up for your work safety rights.  — BadWitch

Readers Are Spellbound & Perplexed…

Dear GWBW — I work in a department store and there’s a weird smell in the area I work in. It smells chemical or electrical, or something. When I complained to my co-worker, she immediately brought up bringing in OSHA. Our cool manager said she’d ask the store manager. She called us all into her little office, shut the door and yelled at me. She said, “I just want this off my desk!” and that’s how the meeting ended.     — Poisoned Penny


Dear Poisoned Penny,

I will suppose that you are a reasonable woman and not prone to frivolous troublemaking at work, or crying wolf here. Your situation is potentially serious and your store manager either needs to be sent to managerial training (and such seniors do exist), or there’s more to the story than reported here. Otherwise, health first!

Let’s simply assume that she could use some coaching. For your concerns, it’s really quite a simple process to start. With some exceptions, most employees’ rights to safety under OSHA in the workplace are covered by the law and you can look them up (or find the right people/agencies to help you, e.g., contacting your local OSHA representative, or if you belong to a union, your rep there). The process consists of an opening conference (between employer, union representative and you), walk-around/physcial inspection, and a closing conference to discuss findings and what (if any) corrections need to be taken care of by the employer.

Poisoned Penny, worker safety and a healthy work environment are a legitimate concern/complaint. I have empathy for you and applaud your standing up for your rights especially to a strong-willed but misguided store manager. Lastly, keep in mind it’s probably just one misguided manager and not the employer itself, so your best judgment will serve your best interests.

Safety first,



Dear Poisoned Penny,

Note in writing everything from the meeting! Include dates, times and conversations you had with co-workers, as well as the store manager tirade. Please note, you are now in a protected class because you presented a possibly hazardous situation to your manager. This “whistleblower” act was put into place so if you know there is something hazardous in the workplace, you can let supervisors know without fear of reprisal.

In truth, your manager may just want it off her desk, but inadvertently has put a more dangerous item on her desk. If someone were to get sick (and, yes, sick building issues do exist and are taken very seriously), she as the representative of the company has been made aware of the situation and now makes the company liable. Scary.

In your notes, be sure to comment on the smells—what they smell like to you, times of the day they are present, and any associated things going on in the building (systems running when smell is present, recent construction in the building etc.). And, of course, if you are feeling less than well after the smell presents itself, go see a doctor. Be sure to keep yourself well. Now, please note, I am not a lawyer, but my recommendation would be to drop an anonymous tip to OSHA. In the end, your health is most important.

If you still have questions, consult an employment lawyer. Know your rights!

Good luck,



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One response to “Office Stink: OSHA, Workers Rights Dismissed

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