VOSH Programs

How to File a VOSH Complaint

The Occupational Safety and Health Laws of Virginia give employees the right to file complaints about workplace safety and health hazards. Further, the Occupational Safety and Health Laws give complainants the right to request that their names not be revealed to their employers. Complaints from employees and their representatives are taken very seriously by VOSH. Please do not use this form to file claims for unpaid wages. Instructions and forms to file claims for unpaid wages can be found in the Labor and Employment Law section of this site.

If you would like to report hazards at your worksite to VOSH, choose one of the following:

Additional Information

For more information on filing a complaint, see the following:

When can a complaint be filed?

Employees need to try to resolve safety and health issues first by reporting them to their supervisors, managers or their safety and health committee. At any time, however, employees can complain to their local VOSH Regional or Field Office and ask for an inspection or an investigation without first bringing the matter to the attention of their employer.

Who can complain?

Employees or their representatives have a right to request an inspection of a workplace if they believe there is a violation of a safety or health standard, if there is any danger that threatens physical harm, or if an “imminent danger” exists. Any person who knows about a workplace safety or health hazard may complain, and VOSH will either investigate or inspect the concerns reported depending on the specific circumstances.

What Information Must the Employee Provide?

Employees or their representatives must provide enough information for VOSH to determine that a hazard probably exists. Workers do not have to know whether a specific VOSH standard has been violated in order to file a complaint. They only need a good-faith belief that dangerous conditions exist in their workplace. Because it is important to give as much complete and accurate information as possible about an alleged hazard, answers to the following types of questions may be useful:

  • How many employees work at the site and how many are exposed to the hazard?
  • How and when are workers exposed?
  • What work is performed in the unsafe or unhealthful area?
  • What type of equipment is used? Is it in good condition?
  • What materials and/or chemicals are used?
  • Have employees been informed or trained regarding hazardous conditions?
  • What process and/or operation is involved?
  • What kinds of work are done nearby?
  • How often and for how long do employees work at the task that leads to their exposure?
  • How long (to the best of your knowledge) has the condition existed?
  • Have any attempts been made to correct the problem?
  • How many shifts work in the area and what times do they start? On what shifts does the hazard exist?
  • What personal protective equipment is required by the employer? Is the equipment used by the employees?
  • Has anyone been injured or made ill as a result of this problem?
  • Have there been any “near-miss” incidents?
  • Has the employer conducted any tests to determine if employees are exposed to the hazardous condition or substance?
  • What are these tests and the results of the tests?
  • What steps has the employer taken, if any, to control the hazard?
  • Do any employees have any symptoms that they think are caused by the hazardous condition or substance?
  • Have any employees been treated by a doctor for a work-related disease or condition? What was it?

(Note: It is not necessary to have the answers to all the questions in order to file a complaint. The list is provided here as a guide.)

How does VOSH Respond to Complaints?

There are two ways that VOSH can respond to a complaint. VOSH can either perform an on-site inspection or an off-site investigation, also known as a “phone/fax investigation.”
Although every worker has a right to receive an on-site inspection if certain criteria are met, there are times when a phone/fax (or letter) investigation may be a better alternative. VOSH normally responds to lower priority hazards using a phone/fax approach. This enables the agency to concentrate resources on the most serious workplace hazards. Employees who request a phone/fax investigation do not give up the right to request an on-site inspection of potential violations and hazards if they are not satisfied with the investigation. Workers should call their nearest VOSH Regional or Field Office to discuss their options.
If an off-site investigation is appropriate, VOSH telephones the employer, describes the alleged hazards and then follows up with a fax or letter. VOSH’s phone/fax method enables the agency to respond more quickly to hazards when the criteria to conduct an on-site inspection (see below) are not met or where the employee or employee representative requests the phone/fax method. The employer must respond in writing within five days, identifying any problems found and noting corrective actions taken or planned. If the response is adequate, VOSH generally will not conduct an inspection. The employee or employee representative who filed the original complaint will receive a copy of the employer’s response and, if still not satisfied, may then request an on-site inspection.
If the employee or employee representative files a written complaint that meets certain criteria, then VOSH may conduct an on-site inspection. These criteria include claims of serious physical harm that have already resulted in disabling injuries or illnesses or claims of imminent danger situations; written, signed complaints by employees requesting inspections; and situations where the employer provided an inadequate response to a phone/fax investigation.

What are the inspection priorities?

VOSH’s top priority for inspection is an imminent danger – a situation where workers face an immediate risk of death or serious physical harm.
Second priority goes to any fatality or catastrophe – an accident that requires hospitalization of three or more workers. Employers are required to report fatalities and catastrophes to VOSH within eight hours.
Third priority is employee complaints and referrals. Lower inspection priorities include inspections targeted toward high hazard industries, planned inspections in other industries and, finally, follow-up inspections to determine whether previously cited violations have been abated.

What is the Process for Worker Involvement in VOSH Inspections?

The Labor Laws of Virginia give the workers’ representative the right to accompany the VOSH inspector during the inspection. The representative is chosen by the union (if there is one) or by the employees, never by the employer. If the employees are represented by more than one union, each union may choose a representative. Normally, the representative of each union will not accompany the inspector for the entire inspection, but will join the inspection when it reaches the area where those union members work. Workers have a right to talk privately to the inspector on a confidential basis whether or not a workers’ representative has been chosen. Workers are encouraged to point out hazards, describe accidents or illnesses that resulted from those hazards and relate past worker complaints about hazards. Workers should also inform the inspector if working conditions are not the same as usually exist in the workplace.

What happens after the inspection/investigation?

After VOSH conducts a phone/fax investigation or an on-site inspection, the agency sends a letter to the worker or worker representative who filed the complaint outlining the findings, including citations and proposed penalties. Copies of citations also must be posted by the employer at or near the site of the violation. This assures that all workers who might be exposed to a hazard are aware of it and understand the need to correct it and the schedule for correction

Can I be punished or discriminated against for filing a complaint?

Workers have the right to complain to VOSH and seek a VOSH inspection. The laws of Virginia authorize VOSH to investigate employee complaints of employer discrimination against those who are involved in safety and health activities. If you believe your employer has treated you unfairly because you exercised your safety and health rights, contact the VOSH Whistleblower Investigator at (575)455-0891 Ext. 134 right away.
Some examples of discrimination are firing, demotion, transfer, layoff, losing opportunity for overtime or promotion, exclusion from normal overtime work, assignment to an undesirable shift, denial of benefits such as sick leave or vacation time.
Refusing to do a job because of potentially unsafe workplace conditions is not ordinarily an employee right under the Labor Laws of Virginia. (Your union contract may, however, give you this right, but VOSH cannot enforce it.) Discharge or discipline of an employee who has refused to do a job because of a reasonable fear of injury or death is considered retaliatory only if the employee has sought to have the employer correct the hazard and the statutory procedures for securing correction of the hazard would not have provided timely protection. The two considerations in applying this provision are whether the hazard is a real danger of death or serious harm as opposed to a potential danger, and whether there is sufficient time to resort to imminent danger procedures.
Job related illnesses and injuries are not, of themselves, protected activity. There must be some safety/health activity by the employee.
If you believe your employer has treated you differently because you exercised your safety and health rights, contact the VOSH Discrimination Investigator right away. Most discrimination complaints fall under the Labor Laws of Virginia, which gives you only 60 days to report discrimination.
You can telephone, fax or mail your complaint to the address listed below. VOSH conducts an in-depth interview with each complainant to determine the need for an investigation. If evidence supports the worker’s claim of discrimination, VOSH will attempt by conciliation to have the violation abated without economic loss to the employee. If the employer objects, VOSH may take the employer to court to seek relief for the worker.
If, after the investigation, VOSH refuses to issue a charge against the employer, the employee can bring an action in a circuit court having jurisdiction over the employer. VOSH is not involved in this private proceeding. See Virginia Code, §40.1-51.2:2.B:

VOSH Discrimination Investigator
Virginia Department of Labor and Industry
Interstate Corporate Center, Building 6,
6363 Center Drive, Suite 101,
Norfolk, Virginia 23502.
Phone: (757) 455-0891 Ext. 134
Fax number: (804) 371-6524.