In a move heralded as a “major restructuring” of OSHA’s Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the program will now report directly to the agency’s Office of the Assistant Secretary instead of to its Directorate of Enforcement Programs.
|OSHA was faulted for inadequate whistleblower protection enforcement by members of Congress who heard testimony from workers during hearings into the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster and Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia.|
OSHA said the action represents “a significantly elevated priority status for whistleblower enforcement,” which will be overseen directly by Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels, who heads OSHA. The agency said the move reflects “continuing efforts to strengthen employees’ voices in the workplace.”
OSHA announced last August that it would restructure its whistleblower program as part of the agency’s multifaceted plan for strengthening the enforcement of 21 whistleblower laws under its jurisdiction. Implementation of the plan began with the fiscal year 2012 budget, as OSHA established a separate budgetary line item for the whistleblower program to better track and hold accountable its activities and accomplishments.
GAO Report Critical of OSHA Management of Program
OSHA’s action comes in response to ongoing criticism of its administration of the whistleblower protection program by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In its most recent report on the program, GAO cited a number of issues including lack of adequate training of OSHA investigators; absence of equipment such as portable printers and standard software; and inconsistencies in screening of whistleblower complaints and decision-making by OSHA managers.
Members of Congress who requested the GAO review of the whistleblower program noted that, during hearings on fatal disasters such as the Upper Big Branch mine explosion and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a number of workers expressed concerns about taking “whistleblower” action in disclosing significant workplace problems.
The GAO report is available at Whistleblower Protection.
OSHA’s Michaels said the restructuring moves represent a firm response to the GAO report.
“The ability of workers to speak out and exercise their rights without fear of retaliation provides the backbone for some of American workers’ most essential legal protections,” Michael said. “OSHA’s internal improvement initiatives, including this realignment, demonstrate the agency’s steadfast commitment to strengthening a program that is critically important to the protection of worker rights.”
In addition to the change at OSHA’s national office, the agency said it has launched pilot projects to evaluate structural changes in 10 field regions that could further strengthen the whistleblower program.
Sandra Dillon, who has served as acting director of the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program since May 2011, will lead the Office of the Whistleblower Program as its director.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report alleged violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety, and consumer financial reform regulations.
More information: www.whistleblowers.gov.