Stronger Protection for Whistleblowers of Workplace Safety Violations

Here’s one more reason to be vigilant about workplace safety.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced that it’ll be implementing new measures to strengthen its Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP), thereby encouraging more employees to come forward with reports of safety violations in their workplace.

This is a very welcome move, especially for employees who are suffering from workplace hazards but may be too worried of employer retaliation to report these violations to the OSHA. Indeed, one of the reasons why workplace safety violations continue to persist is not because the workers are not informed of their rights, but rather because workers are often too intimidated to report these violations. There have been instances when workers who reported against their employers ended up getting fired or demoted. With a stronger Whistleblower Protection Program in place, however, employees and workers can be more confident about reporting workplace safety violations to the proper authorities.

OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels explained it perfectly when he said, “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.” We can only imagine how many workers are still tolerating unsafe working conditions simply because they are too afraid to speak out. Even now, we still keep on encountering news items featuring work-related accidents and disasters that are happening within our own country. This should definitely be addressed, and companies that retaliate against whistleblowers should be properly penalized.

OSHA’s decision to strengthen whistleblower protection reportedly came after the Government Accountability Office conducted an audit of the program in 2010 (OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program Review, Findings and Recommendations – link to pdf) and found several issues related to transparency and accountability, training of investigators, and internal communication. An internal review of the program also confirmed these findings.

Workers who feel that their employers retaliated against them after they reported workplace safety violations should approach the OSHA to file a complaint. With the new changes that the OSHA is planning to implement, these complaints will now be dealt with swiftly and employers will be properly penalized for acting against the employee.