ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Gov’t Report Slams Labor Dept. Program to Protect Whistleblowers

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration — the federal agency responsible for worker safety — isn’t adequately protecting whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers, according to a report (PDF) released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office.

OSHA’s whistleblower protection program, which is responsible for “receiving and investigating most whistleblower complaints filed by nonfederal workers,” hasn’t gotten enough attention from the agency, the report said.

“We found that OSHA has done little to ensure that investigators have the necessary training and equipment to do their jobs, and that it lacks sufficient internal controls to ensure that the whistleblower program operates as intended,” it concluded.

The Center for Public Integrity reported in July that claims of reprisal from whistleblowers were, for the most part, dismissed by OSHA’s whistleblower protection program. From CPI:

Since Congress passed the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform law in 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor upheld 25 whistleblower claims under the law — and tossed out 1,066 claims, according to figures available through June 30. That translates into a winning percentage of little more than 2 percent for workers seeking whistleblower status.

At the time, OSHA chief David Michaels told CPI he was “concerned with the statistics,” and had ordered a “top-to-bottom review” of the program.

He mentioned the review again in a statement responding to the GAO’s report.

“With our available resources, OSHA is working hard to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation,” Michaels said. He added that OSHA had begun taking action on some of the GAO’s recommendations, and was studying others.

The GAO report comes at a time when Congress is trying to encourage more whistleblowing. The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, for instance, contained a provision promising greater incentives to individuals blowing the whistle on violations of securities law.

Looks like it is time to replace some of the people in the OSHA who are not fulfilling their obligations to protect American workers on the job. It is time for them to join the ranks of the unemployed and get some first-hand experience in abuse. Let’s put them out on the street and see how they like it.

Maybe workers at OSHA need a temporary unpaid furlough so they can experience the abuse their “clients” are living through. See if a little time waiting in the unemployment lines and the food stamp lines doesn’t change their attitude and work ethic.

Deborah Menzies

Sep. 17, 2010, 1:43 p.m.

People who have the courage to come forward to identify wrong doing have got to know that there is someone there to protect them. All this report does is confirm[ to these folks and those who may chose to follow] that they are on their own.
I would wonder what the criteria is that OSHA is using that allows to deny so many people “WhistleBlower Status” .They should review the criteria.
Is it not possible to grant the individual Temporary protection under the legislation with the understanding that there will be a review of their situation and a final determination is made.
I would only recommend the above noted after there has been a complete review of the program to be sure that it complies with the spirit of the original legislation that was born out of the Sabanes Oxley Act.

christi howarth

Sep. 17, 2010, 2:42 p.m.

My OSHA inspector told me it was political and the last time he helped a teacher he “got in trouble”
Lied on his report and I’m disabled from my workplace exposures without one penny from workers comp. even though the social security court found me perm. disabled and the QME stated 100% work related. OSHA is a joke!

My son is a victim of retribution for his whistle-blowing while he was working with the YMCA, of all places (you would think that truth would be something the YMCA would support…).  He reported the corner-cutting supposedly cost-saving measures that were in violation of several American Red Cross and state regulations concerning aquatics activities (swimming, pool maintenance, emergency procedures, lessons, etc.) that were being ordered by the Aquatics director. These unsafe and sometimes outright unhealthy measures put pool patrons health and saftey, especially small children in jeopardy.  His detailed report and extensive interviews were handled by someone in the YMCA home office who assured him that all he reported would be held in the strictest of confidence as would be the investigation.  The result was that the director was “counselled” and a few weeks later that director with the blessing of the executive director of the branch eliminated his position and he was out of work.  Then, less than two months later, the position was re-instated and he applied to no avail.  In addition, he has applied for openings at several other branches and has not even been given the opportunity to interview.  Guess whistleblowing only works for whistleblowers with heavyweight lawyers to back them and bring justice to work on their behalf!

Deborah Menzies

Sep. 17, 2010, 3:39 p.m.

If the above stories are any indication of all the folks denied then there definetly needs to be action taken to make them whole, Again I say it should be based on the spirit of the original legislation.
People should be approved based on the merit of the case not on how much money or will they have to address the perseved wrong.
There must be an appeal process which everyone should have equal access to and Constiuency Offices[I am not sure of what your representatives House or Senate local offices are called] who should also advocating on your behalf to OHSA.
Make people accountable and don`t give up until you are made whole.
Good luck

The good news is professional liability insurance - that’s right, federal workers can buy insurance to protect themselves from corrupt Members of Congress and the private sector corporate welfare industry that bankrolls them - is still not that expensive.  Check it out, also the D.C. law firms that specialize in protecting federal whistle blowers.  I’ve been retired almost five years now but there was a time when being threatened by corrupt political hacks both inside and outside my agency caused me to look into this.

The one person in jail for the UBS crime of aiding americans in evading taxes is the whistleblower.  The criminals in the justice department have done nothing to anyone else.  Probably because they are being paid off or are guilty of tax evasion themselves.  The same thing happened in the Abramoff case.  The crooks are running the country reguardless of which party is in charge.

I was a federal safety and health compliance officer, and a paying federal union member. I was abused and harassed for years untill I ended up over night in the hospital with job related stress, by OSHA managment and the union president. I never recieved a pay raise and was to told I had to leave OSHA, by the union preident and she was not doing any thing about it. All because I cooperated with the U.S. Inspector General when they had an investigation with U.S. Dept.of Labor OSHA’s Management.

jacqueline perry

May 8, 2011, 7:30 p.m.

state osha and some of the federal regional employees are protecting the companies for some odd reason.i blew the whitsle on my former employer and was treated harshly and not protected whatsoever.even had three attorneys accept my claim and later drop it without an explainable reason.i got no medical care for my injuries,state employees treated me harshly for reporting my employer.we got laws which only applies to certian folks,i think as an african american we are treated more harshly for reporting and most of the folks that work in these goverment offices your dealing with are white and not fair to black folks,its not all of them but some are,i just want to be treated fairly regardless of whom is doing a job and we are still far from it in america.

Deborah Menzies

May 8, 2011, 8:11 p.m.

Jacqueline,

Not that this will make you feel any better,but you did the right thing.You can make a difference. You are not asking to much to be treated fairly,but it will come in time,given that companies have had at least 8 years to do whatever they please with very little government Reg`s and few to enforce the little there is. Mr Obama`s Administration must put some power into the Reg`s ,get some more folks to enforce the Reg`s and change the mindset of all the Enforcement Agencies.This will take time.
Regarding your comment`s about being treated worse because you are black is a reality not a perception, your country can do better.Aboriginal people in Canada face the same kinds of prejudice.In my community in Thunder Bay Ontario within the next 20 years we W.A.S.P.`s will be in the minority. I tell as many people as possible that I look forward to that day as maybe then we can see how it feels to be a minority.With understanding Ihope will come acceptance which will lead to a better Canada.

Keep faith Jacqueline

Commenting is not available in this section entry.

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •