In a continuing effort to improve the Whistleblower Protection Program, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced that it is implementing additional measures to strengthen the program and is releasing an internal report detailing a recent top-to-bottom review of the program.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 21 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various 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 ability of workers to speak out and exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation is crucial to many of the legal protections and safeguards that all Americans value," said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA's enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering."
The Government Accountability Office audited OSHA's whistleblower program in 2009 and 2010, highlighting challenges related to transparency and accountability, training for investigators and managers, and the internal communications and audit program. OSHA also conducted an internal review that examined national and regional program structures, operational procedures, investigative processes, budget, equipment and personnel issues.
"OSHA is committed to correcting the issues brought to light by the GAO report and our own review," said Dr. Michaels.
The significant changes to the Whistleblower Protection Program announced by OSHA include:
OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program will report directly to the assistant secretary instead of being housed in the Directorate of Enforcement. In addition, changes in field structure are currently being pilot tested. Commencing with its fiscal 2012 budget, OSHA established a separate line item for the whistleblower program to better track and hold accountable its activities and accomplishments. These changes, in addition to the 25 new investigators added, should significantly improve the administration and stature of the program.
OSHA will hold a national whistleblower training conference in September which will be attended by all whistleblower investigators from both federal and state plans, as well as by Labor Department solicitors who work on whistleblower cases. In addition, OSHA will offer several other investigator training events, and will strive to ensure that all investigators and supervisors who have not received the mandatory training courses will receive them by the end of the calendar year.
OSHA revised and will soon issue a new edition of the Whistleblower Investigations Manual that updates current procedures and includes information on the new laws enacted since the manual was last updated in 2003. This new manual will provide further guidance on the enforcement program to help ensure consistency and quality of investigations.
The data collection system has been modified and the audit program is being strengthened and expanded to ensure that complaints are properly handled on a timely basis.
A copy of OSHA's internal review report is available at: http://www.whistleblowers.gov/report_summary_page.html
The whistleblower provision laws enacted by Congress prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by the Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at: http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
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.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.