For any worker, the horror story of unsafe work conditions is only that, a story. For the most part, most employers take their duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment seriously. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and you may find yourself face-to-face with a dangerous work condition. Though, depending on the situation, federal law does allow you and your co-workers to stop work without incurring a penalty or other negative treatment.
Essentially, the basic rule of a work stoppage has X factors. First, you see the dangerous work condition. Second, you tell your New Jersey or New York employer about it and ask that it be mitigated or that you be given alternative duties until it is mitigated. Third, they refuse to mitigate it and still want you to work in that dangerous work condition. Fourth, you and your co-workers refuse to work in the dangerous work conditions. Finally, you stay on the site, contact OSHA and let your employer know that you will resume work when the condition is corrected and are willing to continue work at an alternate site.
Dangerous work condition
Of course, as with most legal rules, the devil is in the details. The dangerous work condition must be so dangerous, unsafe or unhealthy so that it is an immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death. Your belief that this danger rises to this immediacy level must be a good faith belief, and OSHA or another state/local labor entity would not have time to inspect the area.
This danger level must be such that a New Jersey or New York reasonable person would also agree. For example, working in an unsecured pit, next to exposed wiring in a wet area, etc., could all qualify.
Your employer must be on notice of the hazard prior to your work stoppage. This can be done verbally, but it may require telling multiple managers. And, it is always a good idea to document that notification, like through an e-mail that outlines who you spoke with that is sent to higher-level site managers.
Before stopping work though, make sure you and your New Jersey or New York coworkers make it clear that everyone is not refusing to work. Instead, you are refusing to work in the dangerous condition. You are more than willing to work at an alternate worksite or area where that danger is not present. And, after you and your coworkers begin your work stoppage, do not leave the worksite.
While you wait, make an OSHA complaint, gather your evidence (photographs, Emails, etc.) and wait to be reassigned to another worksite. Do not leave until you are ordered to leave, and if so ordered, be sure to update the OSHA complaint with that information as well.
Unfortunately, not all workers know they are allowed to refuse to work, and they pass away as a result. For the survivors and the family members of the deceased, a wrongful death claim can help get justice.