OSHA Announces Measures to Strengthen Enforcement of Whistleblower Protection Program

There are 21 federal statutes that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforce to protect employees who report violations of workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.

The whistleblower provision laws inhibit an employer’s ability to retaliate against any employees that bring up concerns with the workplace or give protected information to the employer or the government. Based upon the findings of an audit of OSHAs whistleblower program performed by the Government Accountability Office in 2009 and 2010, as well as an OSHA internal review, significant changes were made to the Whistleblower Protection Program including restructuring, training, program policy, and internal systems.

Restructuring: OSHAs Whistleblower Protection Program will report directly to the assistant secretary rather than being placed in the Directorate of Enforcement. Beginning with its fiscal 2012 budget, OSHA created a separate line item for the whistleblower program which will better record and hold accountable its activities and accomplishments. Twenty-five new investigators have been added.

Training: In September OSHA will hold a national whistleblower training conference and all whistleblower investigators from both federal and state plans and Labor Department solicitors who work on whistleblower cases will be in attendance. OSHA will also offer other investigator training events and will work to ensure all investigators and supervisors who currently lack attendance at mandatory training courses will receive them by the end of the calendar year.

Program Policy: OSHA has revised and will soon issue a new edition of the Whistleblower Investigations Manual which will incorporate updates on current procedures and information on the new laws enacted since the manual was last amended in 2003. It will also include further guidance on the enforcement program helping to ensure consistency and quality of investigations.

Internal Systems: The data collection system has been modified and the audit program is being enhanced and expanded to confirm that complaints are handled properly on a timely basis. According to a news release by the U.S. Department of Labor, The 21 whistleblower statutes enforced by OSHA include: Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act; Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act; International Safe Container Act; Surface Transportation Assistance Act; Clean Air Act; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act; Federal Water Pollution Control Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Solid Waste Disposal Act; Toxic Substances Control Act; Energy Reorganization Act; Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century; Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act, Title VIII of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; Pipeline Safety Improvement Act; Federal Railroad Safety Act; National Transit Systems Security Act; Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act; Affordable Care Act; Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, Section 1057 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010; Seaman’s Protection Act, as amended by Section 611 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010; and the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act.

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