New Rule Signed To Strengthen Information-Sharing, Outreach on Whistleblower Protections

November 07, 2023
The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board recently announced that the department's OSHA and the board have signed an agreement to strengthen the agencies' partnership and outline procedures for information-sharing, referrals, training and outreach that explain federal anti-retaliation protections.
The Memorandum of Understanding will also enable OSHA and the board to cooperate more effectively and efficiently to enforce related laws and protect workers' rights.
"Everyone should be able to exercise their legal rights in the workplace without fear of losing their job or other forms of punishment," explained Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. "Our partnership with the National Labor Relations Board will expand both of our agencies' impact and effectiveness in protecting workers who raise concerns about workplace violations or retaliation."
The collaboration will also create mechanisms to increase overall awareness on the rights and remedies available under federal anti-retaliation and whistleblower protection laws. The agencies have jointly created a fact sheet, "Building Safe & Healthy Workplaces by Promoting Worker Voice" to help workers better understand what recourse they have when their rights are violated.
"Workplace safety can be a matter of life and death for workers and so the ability to report workplace hazards without fear of retaliation is critically important,” said National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer A. Abruzzo. “Today's MOU will bolster protections for workers to speak out about unsafe working conditions by strengthening coordination between OSHA and the NLRB on our enforcement efforts."
EPA Fines Red Star Yeast Company, LLC for Alleged Hazardous Waste Violations
Red Star Yeast Company LLC in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will pay $37,705 in civil penalties and purchase emergency response equipment for local responders to resolve alleged violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
According to the EPA, the company generates large amounts of hazardous waste in its production of yeast for baking and industrial ethanol production, and failed to comply with regulations intended to prevent releases of hazardous waste, including:
  • Storage of hazardous waste beyond 90 days without a required permit
  • Failure to keep a hazardous waste container closed
  • Failure to inspect hazardous waste containers
  • Failure to label hazardous wastes
“EPA is committed to protecting communities from harmful chemical waste releases and leveling the playing field for companies that comply with the law,” said David Cozad, director of EPA Region 7’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “This settlement represents a win for the environment and the residents of Cedar Rapids and Linn County.”
Red Star Yeast Company’s settlement with EPA includes the purchase of protective suits and boots, a thermal imaging camera, chemical classifier strips, and hazardous waste containment systems to be donated to the Cedar Rapids Fire Department and Linn County Hazmat Team.
Underground Petroleum Storage Tank Violations Result in Steep Fines
In four separate enforcement agreements the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken action against several corporate entities operating in New Jersey, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands to address alleged violations of federal laws regarding the maintenance and operation of underground petroleum storage tank systems. In separate settlements, the companies have agreed to comply and pay penalties. 
“EPA’s requirements are designed to ensure proper maintenance of underground storage tanks. When these tanks are not properly maintained, they can leak and put people and the environment at risk," said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia.EPA takes these requirements very seriously and owners will face penalties if they do not comply.”
When not properly operated and maintained, underground storage tanks (USTs) can leak petroleum and other hazardous substances, threatening soil and water quality. These regulations prevent and detect fuel releases that could contaminate groundwater and pose risks to people’s health and the environment.  
In New Jersey, ADPP Enterprises, Inc., and APM Management, Inc., operators of 13 gas stations in New Jersey, settled a case with the EPA for violating federal rules on USTs storing gasoline or diesel fuel. The EPA discovered that the gas stations failed to comply with spill prevention, leak detection, inspection, and record keeping requirements for USTs between 2018 and 2020. The gas station owners have agreed to pay a $175,000 penalty and certify their compliance with the UST rules at their facilities. 
Wawa, Inc., a New Jersey-based company that operates gas stations and convenience stores, has settled with the EPA for violating federal regulations on USTs containing gasoline or diesel fuel. Following inspections at nine Wawa facilities in February and March of 2022, EPA determined the company had failed to meet operator training, record keeping, and leak detection requirements for USTs. Wawa has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $26,500 and certify its compliance with UST regulations at its facilities. 
In New York, EPA found Dutchess Terminals, Inc., ANK Realty Inc., and Fair Oak, Inc., three companies that own and operate underground storage tanks storing gasoline or diesel fuel at 11 facilities across New York State, in violation of federal rules on financial responsibility, leak detection, spill prevention, and UST inspection requirements between November 2017 and April 2019. The companies have agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty and certify their compliance with the UST rules at their facilities.  
AT&T Transoceanic Comm. LLC, which owns and operates underground tanks storing fuel for emergency power generators at 28 facilities in New York, New Jersey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, violated federal rules on spill prevention, inspections, and operator training at three of its facilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which EPA inspected in 2022. The company has agreed to pay a $40,000 penalty and conduct a comprehensive audit of its compliance with all UST rules at its New York and New Jersey facilities. 
Approximately 542,000 underground storage tanks nationwide store petroleum or hazardous substances. The greatest potential threat from a leaking UST is contamination of groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. EPA, states, territories, and tribes work in partnership with industry to protect the environment and human health from potential releases. 
Wisconsin Foundry Cited After 2 Workers Suffer Amputation
Federal investigations into how two employees in the mill room at a Wisconsin foundry suffered amputation injuries within 11 days of one another in April and May 2023 found the Marinette company again violated federal regulations for control of hazardous energy during servicing and maintenance.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration at Waupaca Foundry Inc. determined a 29-year-old employee suffered a fingertip amputation on April 27, 2023, when their hand was dragged into the pinch point between a chain link conveyor belt and discharge chute as they removed jammed parts. On May 8, 2023, the hand of a 20-year-old employee — on the job about six months — was caught between a part and the stand grinding wheel, which also led to a fingertip amputation.
The employees were using grinders to trim parts during the casting process and moving them through the process by conveyors when the incidents occurred.
In both instances, OSHA inspectors discovered Waupaca Foundry lacked adequate machine guarding and energy control procedures that would have prevented employees from making contact with moving machine parts. The agency cited the company in 2019 and 2021 for exposing workers to similar hazards.
The agency cited the foundry's operator for two repeat and six serious violations and assessed $234,385 in proposed penalties, after the two injury inspections and a follow-up OSHA inspection at the foundry.
"Despite repeated employee injuries and OSHA citations, Waupaca Foundry continues to ignore federal and industry-recognized safety requirements to prevent employee exposure to amputation, electrical and other hazards," explained OSHA Area Director Robert Bonack in Appleton, Wisconsin. "The foundry must implement procedures and training immediately to protect its employees from these preventable injuries."
Specifically, OSHA inspectors found the foundry failed to verify and test its energy control procedures periodically and train workers on using these procedures during machine servicing and maintenance. The agency also cited Waupaca Foundry for having damaged guardrails that exposed workers to fall hazards and for several violations of safe electrical work practices, including using flexible cords instead of permanent wiring and failing to inspect cords before using them.
Jacksonville Residential Roofing Contractor Fined for Exposing Workers to Fall Hazards
An OSHA investigation found that Brayden Roofing willfully exposed employees to fall hazards by allowing them to work on 10-foot-high roofs without fall protection at a Jacksonville worksite. The agency also cited the company with a serious violation for not making sure ladder rails extended above the roof's upper landing surface. Proposed penalties are $72,683. 
In three previous investigations in 2022 and 2023, OSHA cited Brayden Roofing Specialists for similar failures. In May 2022, inspectors identified three serious violations related to lack of head protection, eye and face protection and fall protection at a Jacksonville worksite. In December 2022, OSHA cited the company with two repeat violations for lack of eye and face protection and fall protection at a Jacksonville worksite. In January 2023, the company received a citation for one repeat violation after inspectors found the employer did not make sure to workers used fall protection at a Palm Coast worksite.
Falls from elevation continue to be the leading cause of death in the construction industry. Of 1,008 industry workers' deaths in 2020, 351 were related to falls to lower levels. OSHA offers a number of resources such as posters, fact sheets, training materials and social media graphics online at its Fall Prevention Campaign page. Employers can also contact the agency for information about OSHA's compliance assistance resources and for free help on complying with OSHA standards.
"In less than two years, four workplace safety investigations found violations related to inadequate or non-existent fall protection, Brayden Roofing Specialists has shown a clear pattern of willfully disregard for their employees' safety, health and well-being," explained OSHA Area Office Director Scott Tisdale in Jacksonville, Florida. "Serious injuries and potential deaths are avoidable when employers commit to following required safety measures, such as providing fall protection to employees and training them to recognize and avoid hazards."
City of Silex, Missouri, Agrees to Remedy Alleged Safe Drinking Water Act Violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached an agreement with the City of Silex, Missouri, to resolve alleged violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Under an Administrative Compliance Order filed on Oct. 26, 2023, the city will develop and submit plans to EPA to address radium contamination in the city’s drinking water.
“EPA is encouraged that the City of Silex has committed to short- and long-term plans to protect its citizens,” said David Cozad, director of EPA Region 7’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “EPA is committed to continue providing technical assistance to the city, and to keep the public informed on progress to address this problem.”
According to EPA, since 2012, Silex has reported levels of radium in its drinking water supply that exceed federal standards. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive substance found in the subsurface. As it decays, radium emits low levels of radiation that can lead to an increased risk of cancer over long-term exposure.
EPA held a Public Meeting in Silex on Oct. 5, 2023. Representatives explained that although radium may cause health-related issues over time, the levels of radium in Silex’s drinking water do not pose a significant health risk from acute or short-term exposure, and Silex residents can continue to drink the water. However, EPA encouraged members of the Silex community who are concerned to use alternate drinking water. EPA also indicated that the Silex drinking water is safe to use for bathing, showering, hand washing, and other uses involving dermal contact.
Under the terms of the order, Silex will submit and implement a short-term plan to provide alternate drinking water to residents, while also implementing a long-term plan to bring the drinking water system into compliance with federal radium standards.
News Links  
Trivia Question of the Week