OSHA Establishes Final Rule on Whistleblower Procedures

September 03, 2004

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently established procedures for the handling of whistleblower complaints under the Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act of 2002.

This act, also known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, was enacted July 30, 2002, to protect employees in publicly traded companies and their contractors, subcontractors or agents from retaliation for providing information that an employee believes is a violation of a Securities and Exchange Commission rule or other federal law relating to fraud against shareholders. OSHA has received a total of 307 employee complaints filed under the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act since its inception.

The rule, published in the Federal Register, establishes procedures for the expeditious handling of discrimination complaints made by employees or by persons acting on their behalf. Included in the rule are procedures for submitting complaints, investigations and issuing findings and preliminary orders. A major part of the rule details litigation procedures and how one can object to the findings and request a hearing. The final section of the rule discusses miscellaneous provisions including withdrawals of complaints and settlements and judicial review and judicial enforcement.

OSHA also published a fact sheet last year describing whistleblower protections for workers employed by publicly traded companies or their contractors, subcontractors or agents. The fact sheet details a worker's rights as a whistleblower as well as instructions on how to file complaints.

Strategic Partnership between OSHA, Electrical Contractors, Labor and Industry Associations

A major partnership signed last month between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and electrical contractors, industry trade associations, and a major labor organization will benefit thousands of workers in the electrical transmission and distribution industry.

The partnership is based on the systematic anticipation, identification, evaluation, and control of health and safety hazards during electrical construction transmission and distribution work, with the overall objective being the reduction of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses in the industry. Five specific goals have been established to achieve that objective: data analysis and identification of target areas; identifying and implementing best practices; development and delivery of training; outreach and communication; and a program evaluation.

The partnership was structured using a multi-tiered approach with separate executive, steering, and task teams. Working together, the teams will develop findings and recommendations that will be reviewed. OSHA and its fellow partners will share with others in the industry information on lessons learned and mutually agreed upon best practices. The partnership encourages participation in the safety process by industry members, workers, and other interested parties. The agreement also calls for the partners to commit to the goal of providing a safer and more healthful workplace for industry workers.

Organizations joining OSHA in the strategic partnership include: five electrical contractors (Henkels & McCoy, Inc., MYR Group, Inc., Pike Electric, Inc., Quanta Services, Inc., and Utility Services, Inc.); two trade associations (National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA); and Edison Electric Institute (EEI)); and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

OSHA Assisting Workers in Florida Hurricane Cleanup

More than thirty safety and health experts from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were dispatched to Florida to provide technical assistance and help ensure that the thousands of workers responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Charley remain safe.

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw noted the hazardous nature of the cleanup and recovery operations. He cited assistance provided by OSHA to correct a serious hazard involving a trench at a Punta Gorda demolition site. Henshaw noted that the situation could have caused serious injury or loss of life if it had gone unaddressed.

Several audio public service announcements featuring Henshaw address specific hazards that workers are routinely exposed to during cleanup and restoration operations. They include: flooding, mold, falls, electrical, and chainsaws. Henshaw also appears in a video public service announcement released by the Labor Department urging workers involved in the Florida cleanup and recovery effort to remember important safety tips and to contact OSHA for more information about how to stay as safe and healthy as possible while on the job.

GAO Faults OSHA on Fine Calculation Oversight

The Government Accountability Office (GAO, formerly the General Accounting Office) recently found shortcomings on the part of some regional offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The GAO found that some area OSHA offices had failed to conduct follow-up inspections to make sure employers had corrected safety violations. They also found that, even when controlled for certain factors, some regional offices had miscalculated penalties, with certain industries having penalties averaging $257 more than others. Larger employers were fined an average of $1090 more than those levied against smaller businesses.

OSHA agreed with GAOÆs recommendation of reviewing regional office audits. Other GAO recommendations include the use of statistical modeling to assist OSHA in determining whether penalties are being assessed correctly, and to identify unanticipated factors which may or may not be influencing penalty amounts.