Here's How OSHA Can Improve Its Handling of OSH Act Whistleblower Cases

by Katie Tracy | May 16, 2019

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) guarantees workers the right to speak up about health and safety concerns in the workplace without reprisal. Specifically, Section 11(c) of the law provides workers the express right to report any subsequent employer retaliation against whistleblowers, such as demotion or firing, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Even with these protections, many workers fear retaliation if they report health and safety concerns. Workers who put their jobs on the line to make their voice heard deserve certainty that OSHA has their back if their employers violate the law and take adverse action against them. However, due to statutory barriers and resource constraints, OSHA's administration of 11(c) cases often leaves workers without any remedy.

On May 14, I delivered remarks at an OSHA stakeholder meeting on improving the agency's administration of retaliation cases filed under Section 11(c). I laid out several ways the agency could improve its administration of 11(c) cases, all of which OSHA could adopt using its existing authority and without taking up a tremendous amount of resources. The full statement is available here. The key recommendations are as follows:

  • When OSHA receives an 11(c) complaint, the agency should assess whether the complaint might also fall under another whistleblower statute that the agency administers that would potentially provide a more advantageous process for the handling of the complaint or provide better remedies.
    ...

Honor Fallen Workers by Protecting the Living from Dangerous Workplace Chemicals

by Thomas McGarity | April 29, 2019
Although Workers' Memorial Day was officially April 28, the time has not passed for remembering the thousands of friends, family members, and neighbors whose lives were tragically cut short due to fatal on-the-job incidents this past year. We carry on their memories as we renew the fight for healthy and safe working conditions. On average, 5,320 workers die on the job every year. In 2017, the latest year for which data is available, the death toll was 5,147. These figures ...

New Guide: Securing a Nontoxic Work Environment

by Katie Tracy | April 17, 2019
Workers should be able to earn a paycheck without putting their lives or their health and well-being on the line. Yet every day, an estimated 137 U.S. workers succumb to diseases caused by on-the-job exposure to toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances, and hundreds of thousands more suffer from nonfatal illnesses. In fact, more people die annually from toxic exposures at work than from car crashes, firearms, or opioids. Today, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) releases a new handbook, ...

CPR's 2018 Op-Eds

by Matthew Freeman | December 27, 2018
As we prepare to tie a bow on 2018, it’s worth looking back at the various op-eds CPR’s Member Scholars and staff penned over the course of the year. You can find and read every single one of them on our op-ed page. But here are some highlights for quick(er) perusal: In February, CPR’s Founding President, Tom McGarity had a piece in The American Prospect, reviewing the damage done by the GOP congressional majority by means of the Congressional Review ...

2019 Wish List for Workers’ Health and Safety

by Katie Tracy | December 26, 2018
As 2018 ends and we take stock of the developments in workers’ rights over the first half of the Trump administration, there is little forward progress to report. This administration, acting with minimal to no congressional oversight, has consistently neglected to protect America’s workers, instead rolling back and delaying numerous Obama-era regulations and safeguards, ignoring emerging hazards from climate change and new technologies, and restricting traditional inspection and enforcement in favor of self-reporting and compliance assistance.  Instead of focusing on ...

OSHA's Fall Regulatory Agenda: Worker Protections Not a Priority

by Katie Tracy | October 22, 2018
The Trump administration has few plans to protect workers from emerging workplace health and safety hazards, according to the regulatory agenda released by the White House on October 16. This is nothing new for this administration, which has consistently neglected to take up worker protections, instead focusing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) resources on delaying and rolling back existing safeguards.  Among the rules in OSHA's crosshairs, the agency plans to revoke a requirement for employers with 250 or ...

Mesothelioma Awareness Day 2018

by Katie Tracy | September 25, 2018
September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. The day is intended to share information about mesothelioma, an incurable cancer that forms on the linings of vital organs, typically the lungs, following asbestos exposure. While the prognosis for individuals diagnosed with the illness is grim, preventing it is very much possible.  Scientific studies of asbestos conclude there is no safe level of exposure. Accordingly, the clear solution to preventing mesothelioma is to ensure people are never exposed to asbestos in any amount. ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Emergency Waiver of Health, Safety, and Environmental Rules

by Victor Flatt | September 19, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. On August 23, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Coast. That state of emergency was ultimately expanded to 60 counties in Texas. Emergency declarations in Texas (as in many states and for the federal government) allow the governor to unilaterally suspend specific rules and regulations if they are ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Worker Health and Disaster

by Katie Tracy | September 18, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Lachlan Brain, a 22-year-old electrical lineman from Tennessee, traveled to Houston following Hurricane Harvey to help with the relief effort, working for T&D Solutions, a company that specializes in maintaining and repairing power lines and related equipment. While working inside a bucket truck on August 25, 2017, Brain leaned across an electrical line, came into contact with a ...

Trump's OSHA Backtracks on Electronic Recordkeeping Rule over Bogus Privacy Concerns

by Katie Tracy | August 14, 2018
The Trump administration has aggressively sought to undermine public safeguards since taking office, all under the guise of making America great (again?). Nowhere has this been more evident than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where Trump appointees have sought to attack most every standard adopted during the Obama era, as well as long-standing analytical procedures (see here and here) designed to ensure any new standards are evidence-based and scientifically sound. These attacks do not stop at EPA, however. Trump has ...

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Baltimore Employer of Smothered Worker Should Be Held Criminally Accountable

by Rena Steinzor | June 12, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. On June 5, a 19-year-old construction worker named Kyle Hancock was smothered to death when a deep trench where he was working collapsed. R.F. Warder Inc., the construction company that hired Hancock to help fix a leaking sewage pipe, and the bosses it employed are responsible for his death, plain and simple. Their failure to shore the trench to prevent a collapse was grossly negligent, readily foreseeable, eminently preventable and, therefore, criminal. The ...

Trump's OSHA to Roll Back More Worker Safeguards, Slow Walk Others

by Katie Tracy | May 14, 2018
The White House released its Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions on May 9 with little fanfare. A close examination of the agenda for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that protecting worker health and safety is anything but a priority for the Trump administration. Rather, the agency will continue to focus on weakening worker protections. OSHA's spring agenda lists 20 planned activities – 15 carryovers from the fall agenda, four agenda items moved from ...

Workers at Risk from USDA's Proposed Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule

by Katie Tracy | May 01, 2018
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) proposed a rule on Feb. 1 to alter inspection procedures for hog slaughter plants by revoking the existing cap on maximum line speeds and transferring key inspection tasks from USDA inspectors to private plant workers. These changes to current practices raise numerous concerns for worker health and safety, all of which the agency fails to address in the proposal.  Because of these concerns, Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member ...

Workers' Memorial Day 2018

by Katie Tracy | April 25, 2018
On Saturday, April 28, CPR will observe Workers' Memorial Day by remembering fallen workers whose lives were taken from this world too soon and by renewing our pledge to fight for all working people.  Every day in this country, 14 workers leave for work, never to return home. One worker is killed on the job every two hours in the United States. In 2016, 5,190 workers died earning a living, the highest number on record in eight years. That doesn't ...

Oversight Needed for Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health Division

by Katie Tracy | March 26, 2018
Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health division (MOSH) is struggling to carry out its mission of ensuring the health and safety of Maryland workers, according to CPR's analysis of a mandatory performance report the agency provided to the state legislature late last year. The Maryland legislature mandated the report as a condition of releasing $250,000 of MOSH's FY 2018 funds. Our review of the report and other agency materials leads us to conclude that the agency's limited budget is a key ...

Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Hazards

by Katie Tracy | March 14, 2018
Workers have the right to speak up about health and safety hazards they encounter on the job. And they should be able to feel comfortable coming forward with their concerns without having to worry that they will be fired, demoted, or in some other way retaliated against for doing so. That is exactly what the drafters of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) had in mind when they included a provision in the 1970 law prohibiting employers from ...

CPR Letter Calls On Trump Labor Department to Withdraw Tipping Rule Proposal Due to Suppressed Analysis

by Katie Tracy | February 05, 2018
Today, six CPR Member Scholars and staff members sent a letter to the Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division, calling on the agency to withdraw its proposal to repeal an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing employers from taking workers' hard-earned tips. Last week, Bloomberg Law uncovered a deliberate effort by the DOL to conceal an analysis showing that the proposal would allow business owners and managers to steal and misappropriate billions of dollars – that's "billions" with a ...

County Prosecutor in Washington State Indicts Construction Company Owner for Trench Collapse Death

by Katie Tracy | February 01, 2018
On the morning of January 26, 2016, Seattle police were called to a construction site where a worker, Harold Felton, was trapped in a collapsed trench. By the time officers arrived, the rescue operation had turned into a recovery; Felton, 36, had died at the scene.  Felton was working as part of a two-man team employed by Alki Construction to replace a sewer line. According to the police report, 10 minutes before the trench collapsed, the man working alongside Felton ...

Workers' Rights

The nation's workers face challenges of multiple fronts. Safety in the workplace continues to be a national problem, with thousads of workplace deaths and injuries every year. In addition, workers struggle for protection from wage theft and other economic protections.

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