One of the issues I am most frequently asked questions about related to the Workers’ Compensation claims I deal with on a daily basis, are right to know law issues. New Jersey’s Worker and Community Right to Know Act protects public employees by requiring their employers to label hazardous substances and maintain files of hazardous substances kept in the workplace.
A public employee under this Act has the right to work with labeled containers that identify the chemical contents. Additionally, a public employee has the right to obtain a copy of a survey of hazardous substances for their workplace, which the employee is required to keep on file on site. The public employee under this law also has the right to get Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets about chemicals they may be exposed to or potentially exposed to from their employer.
All public employers are required to make surveys of their hazardous substances and send them to the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and are required to label all chemicals and maintain the Material Safety Data Sheets.
If the public employer refuses to comply with the requests for information under this Act, the public employee then has the right to file a complaint against the employer for not complying with the Act. This complaint can be filed with the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and the name of the person who files the complaint will be kept confidential. Furthermore, if an employer has not provided information they requested in writing within five working days, an employee has the right to refuse to work with the substance. This law also bars an employer from taking out any reprisals against anyone exercising their rights under this law.
These are important rights to exercise because exposure to hazardous substances has been linked to health effects including cancer, birth defects, heart, lung and kidney diseases. These health effects may develop years after the exposure, and therefore, being aware of hazardous substances that public employees are working with can help with proper diagnosis and treatment down the road. A public employee who knows what he is being exposed to can better protect himself now and in the future. If any public employee encounters problems, they can contact the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services directly at (609) 984-2202, and you can also call me here in my Lawrenceville, New Jersey office for a free consultation if you have questions regarding your rights as a public employee.