OSHA to Create Federal Whistleblower Advisory Committee

On May 17, OSHA announced it would create a federal advisory committee to strengthen its whistleblower protections.

The Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) will advise, consult with and make recommendations to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels on ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the agency's administration of whistleblower protections.

"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," said Michaels.

In particular, the committee will advise OSHA on the development and implementation of improved customer service models, enhancements in the investigative and enforcement process, training and regulations governing OSHA investigations. The committee also will advise OSHA in cooperative activities with other federal agencies that are responsible for areas covered by the whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA.

Protecting Whistleblowers

In recent years, OSHA has weathered criticism for its whistleblower program and has vowed to make improvements. In September 2010, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlined weaknesses in OSHA’s whistleblower program, including a lack of necessary internal controls and lack of sufficient training and equipment for investigators.

OSHA has since conducted an internal review of its program; requested an $4.8 million increase in whistleblower program funding in its FY 2013 budget request; and, in March, announced its Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program (OWPP) would be restructured, placing Michaels at the helm.

"This new Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee will help our agency sustain an open dialogue with stakeholders and experts, and will promote the transparency and accountability that are the cornerstone of this administration," Michaels said.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

Under these various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.

Detailed information on employer whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at the newly updated http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

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