OSHA Vows to Strengthen Whistleblower Program

OSHA has released a report documenting an internal review of the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program and outlined several changes designed to improve the program, including those related to restructuring, training and policies and internal systems.

The whistleblower provision laws enacted by Congress prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 21 statutes protecting employees who report violations of workplace safety or other laws.

Following its audits of OSHA’s whistleblower program in 2009 and 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified problems related to the program’s transparency and accountability, training and the internal communications and audit program. In April 2010, OSHA conducted its own internal, extensive, top-to-bottom review of the whistleblower program and confirmed many of GAO’s findings.

“Overall, the team found significant deficiencies and challenges facing OSHA's whistleblower protection program,” the report reads. “If the agency makes widespread reforms to the whistleblower program, the [whistleblower program review] team believes it will result in a credible, consistent and effective program.”

OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels stressed that the agency “is committed to correcting the issues brought to light by the GAO report and our own review.” OSHA therefore announced the following changes to its whistleblower program:

· Restructuring – Several restructuring changes will improve the program’s administration and stature, OSHA said. First, the Whistleblower Protection Program will report directly to the assistant secretary instead of being housed in the Directorate of Enforcement. In addition, changes in field structure are currently being pilot tested; a separate line item for the whistleblower program will be established beginning with the 2012 budget to better track and hold accountable its activities; and 25 new investigators will be added.
· Training – In an effort to improve training, OSHA will hold a national whistleblower training conference in September. All whistleblower investigators from both federal and state plans and Labor Department solicitors who work on whistleblower cases will attend. OSHA also will offer several other investigator training events and will ensure that all investigators and supervisors who have not received the mandatory training courses will receive them by the end of 2011.
· Program Policy – To provide further guidance on the enforcement program and to help ensure consistency and quality of investigations, OSHA will issue a revised edition of the Whistleblower Investigations Manual. This new edition will update current procedures and include information on the new laws enacted since the manual was last updated in 2003.
· Internal Systems – The data collection system has been modified and the audit program is being strengthened and expanded to ensure that complaints are properly handled on a timely basis.

“The ability of workers to speak out and exercise their legal rights without fear of retaliation is crucial to many of the legal protections and safeguards that all Americans value,” said Michaels. “The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA’s enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering.”

A copy of OSHA’s internal review report is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov/report_summary_page.html. Further information on employee whistleblower rights is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

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