OSHA Unveils Plans to Boost Protection of Whistleblowers

Facing sharp criticism of its whistleblower protection program, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced measures to improve training and avoid long delays in completing investigations.

The program has been ripped by the Labor Department’s inspector general and by the Government Accountability Office which, in a report released last year, cited training lapses among its glaring weaknesses. As FairWarning has reported, other problems include a serious lack of staff, with investigators being overwhelmed by huge caseloads and a steady expansion of new laws to enforce. The program is responsible for protecting whistleblowers under 21 different federal statutes covering everything from workplace and transportation safety to pollution control and accounting fraud.

As part of the measures announced Monday, OSHA will hold a mandatory training conference in September to be attended by all whistleblower investigators as well as by Labor Department lawyers who work on whistleblower cases.

“The ability of workers to speak out and exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation is crucial,” OSHA chief David Michaels said in a news release. “The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA’s enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering.”

Other changes include having the program report directly to the OSHA chief, rather than to the enforcement division, which handles safety inspections and has been accused of neglecting whistleblower protection. OSHA said it is also issuing a revised investigations manual and will strengthen audits “to ensure that complaints are properly handled on a timely basis.”

The GAO found that nearly 40 percent of whistleblower investigators had not not taken or even registered for a required basic training course on the statutes they are supposed to enforce. “According to one senior official,” the report said, “some regions are unwilling to send investigators to mandatory training, citing a lack of need for such training.”

OSHA recently hired more than 25 new investigators to deal with heavy caseloads. But citing past experience, the GAO warned that without adequate central controls, the new hires could be diverted by regional officials to other tasks.


Related Posts:
OSHA Protection of Whistleblowers Flayed Again in Government Report
Protection Lags for Workers Who Report Hazards on the Job



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One comment to “OSHA Unveils Plans to Boost Protection of Whistleblowers”

  1. Becky McClain

    Your article is a short-sighted. The problems with OSHA surrounding the protection of whistleblowers involves more than OSHA training issues. Much more.

    The major problem is that government agencies, like OSHA, use revolving door policies and establish special economic relationships with business. Consequently, these inherent conflict of interest creates certain boundaries that these agencies, like OSHA, will not cross at the expense of individual and public health rights, even to the point of using disingenuous tactics against whistleblowers.

    For example, during an interview session I had with OSHA concerning serious public health and safety complaints against my employer Pfizer, I was guaranteed that my notebooks were safe as I left for a lunch break. But while away, the OSHA investigator, nonetheless, made a copy of all my attorney-client privileged documents from my personal notebook without my consent or knowledge. These private documents, of course, were subsequently given to Pfizer without my knowledge.

    And then later in the investigation, OSHA demanded a settlement offer from me at the threat of throwing out my case, only to use it afterwards to write in their report that I had a character flaw because I was out to get money. OSHA refused to follow statutory procedure, never performed a safety inspection or addressed my serious safety complaints even with documents in hand showing serious biocontainment issues, exposures and illnesses in our department at Pfizer. It was obvious that OSHA was NOT interested in protecting me as a whistleblower; they were out to silence me using false character assassination.

    The end result is that government agencies act in capricious ways and will continue to do so due to conflicts of interests and special relationships with business. OSHA provides no consistent platform or protection for injured workers or whistleblowers to speak freely and inform the public, even with issues concerning public health and safety.

    We need Congress to do their job and make sure that these agencies like OSHA follow the law to protect whistleblowers. But it obvious that the government and Congress are too entrenched with special interests groups to do this. They turn their heads and advocate for more training instead knowing all the while this is a façade.

    OSHA will not provide consistent protections to whistleblowers because Congress does not demand them to do it. We need to form a citizen’s group to protect whistleblowers.
    Otherwise, the injustices will continue against good Americans who speak for the protection of public health and safety and the common good. The whistleblower suffers and the public gets short-changed.

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