Feb 2015

Whistleblowers Come Forward to OSHA in Record Numbers

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyUnsafe work conditions exist at worksites throughout Coventry, Warwick, and Providence, endangering workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets the rules that are supposed to protect employers and oversees compliance with rules and regulations. OSHA does not have sufficient money or staff to do its job as effectively as it should, which means that businesses do not get inspected frequently enough and safety violations often go unnoticed until someone gets hurt or killed and an investigation is triggered.

A workers’ compensation lawyer knows that it is always best for safety problems to come to light before anyone suffers an injury. One way in which this occurs is when whistleblowers come forward. Whistleblowers are people who report safety violations or other wrongdoings that they discover. They are supposed to be protected from retaliation by their employers, although this doesn’t always happen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the responsibility for investigating whistleblower complaints for as many as 22 different federal statutes and not all complaints are thoroughly investigated. Last year, however, the National Law Review indicated that the agency reviewed and looked into a record number of whistleblower cases.

OSHA Reviews Record Number of Whistleblower Cases

Over the course of fiscal year 2014, OSHA took on 3,600 cases. A total of 57 percent of whistleblower complaints were filed based on anti-retaliation provisions in Section 11(C) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. There were also 463 cases which were brought under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), which is designed to protect commercial drivers who blow the whistle on safety issues. The Railroad Safety Act also gave rise to 463 claims made.

In total, OSHA took on 91 more investigations into whistleblower complaints than it did in 2013. A part of the reason why the agency may have reviewed more complaints is that it has received more complaints due to media attention to monetary awards being paid to whistleblowers.

Although OSHA took on more investigations, only around 41 percent of claims passed the agency’s initial screening phase. This means a lot of people who came forward to report safety violations and who were retaliated against may not have gotten to move forward with seeking OSHA protection.

OSHA uses a preponderance of the evidence standard to determine if there is cause to further investigate a claim, and this may be resulting in some legitimate instances of retaliation not being properly addressed. According to the National Law Review, OSHA will be changing the way it responds when claims of wrongdoing are made and will switch to a reasonable cause standard instead of the current stricter standard.

The fact that OSHA is investigating more claims and considering making a move to make it even more likely that claims will be investigated is very good, since whistleblowers need to be protected so they can continue to come forward. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement and OSHA could do a better job protecting people who risk their careers to come forward and report safety problems.

Contact a Providence accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl at 508-677-4900 or visit http://www.dgklaw.com to schedule your free consultation. Serving Coventry, Warwick, Providence and surrounding areas.

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