In response to a critical report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it is implementing measures to strengthen its Whistleblower Protection program. This program was designed to protect 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 GAO audited OSHA’s whistleblower program in 2009 and 2010 and found issues 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 OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. “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. The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA's enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering.”
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, are expected to 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.