What is the General Duty Clause and how does it affect workers?

Under the General Duty Clause, employers are required to provide their employees with a place to work that is free of serious hazards.

When employees in North Carolina go to work, they expect that their employer will provide a workspace that is safe enough for them to perform their duties without harm. However, this does not always occur and many employees are injured every year in workplace accidents, despite the existences of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's General Duty Clause.

The basics of the General Duty Clause

Under the General Duty Clause, employers are required to maintain a place of employment that does not contain any hazards that could cause serious harm or death. As such, employers are legally obligated to ensure that their workspace is free from dangers that are recognized either by the business or the industry as hazardous.

For an employer to be cited under this clause, four different conditions must be satisfied. First, the hazard must actually exist; second, the hazard must be recognizable; third, the hazard must be likely to cause physical harm or death; and fourth, the hazard must be able to be corrected by the business or employer.

Examples of violations

There are many different ways employers can create an unsafe workspace and as a result, violate the terms of the General Duty Clause. These are just a few examples:

  • Employees are required to lift products and other objects above shoulder height on a regular basis.
  • While shifting a load, employees have to frequently twist their body to get the job done.
  • While working alone, employees have no way to easily contact emergency personnel for medical assistance.
  • A business uses a pipe-threading machine that does not have a functional automatic shutoff button.
  • Employees regularly operate a forklift truck at elevated heights that is not equipped with adequate fall protection.
  • Highly reactive chemicals are stored improperly on the premises of a working space.

Employers can also violate the tenants of the General Duty Clause if they require their workers to stand for extended periods of time without adequate support, if their employees are exposed to mercury vapors from improper housekeeping practices or if the workplace has hydraulic auto lifts without adequate locking devices.

Reach out to an attorney

Employees in North Carolina required to work in an unsafe location may sustain serious injuries that prevent them from living life like normal. For this reason, injured employees should reach out to an attorney in their area for further information about the workers' compensation system and asserting their legal rights.