The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced plans to establish a committee charged with advising and making recommendations to Department of Labor and OSHA officials regarding ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of OSHA’s whistleblower protection program (WPP). The WPP enforces the whistleblower provisions of twenty-one separate whistleblower statutes, including those set forth in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank).
According to the notice posted in the May 17, 2012 edition of the Federal Register, the new Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) will be charged with making recommendations regarding the development and/or implementation of:
- Better customer service to both workers who raise complaints and employers who are the subject of investigations;
- Improvement in the investigative and enforcement process, and the training of OSHA investigators;
- Improvement of regulations governing OSHA investigations;
- Cooperative activities with federal agencies responsible for areas also covered by the whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA; and
- Other matters concerning the fairness, efficiency and transparency of OSHA's whistleblower investigations as identified by the Secretary or the Assistant Secretary.
In a news release, OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said:
Workers who expose securities and financial fraud, adulterated foods, air and water pollution, or workplace safety hazards have a legal right to speak out without fear of retaliation, and the laws that protect these whistleblowers also protect the health, safety and well-being of all Americans . . . Establishing a federal advisory committee is another important effort to strengthen protections for whistleblowers.
Federal agencies have increased their efforts to target whistleblower violations in recent months. On March 1, 2012, OSHA announced its plans to have the Office of the WPP report directly to OSHA’s Office of the Assistant Secretary instead of to its Directorate of Enforcement Programs. Later that month, OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard E. Fairfax issued a memo directing field compliance officers and whistleblower investigators to keep an eye out for workplace policies and practices – including employer safety initiatives – that could discourage employees from reporting injuries. On March 28, the DOL’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) released a decision finding that the whistleblower protections afforded under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 are not limited to “consumer products” nor to matters strictly under the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s jurisdiction.
To support these enforcement initiatives, the DOL’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 would allocate an additional $5 million over last year’s OSHA funding to carry out its whistleblower programs.
Photo credit: Lkmorlan