OSHA dishes out and takes criticism about whistleblower, state programs
OSHA is responsible for enforcing the whistleblower provisions of 19 laws protecting employees who report violations of workplace safety and health as well as various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, consumer product safety, health care reform, and financial reform laws. But a Government Accountability Office report concluded the agency is not performing well.
"For over 20 years, we have reported that OSHA has focused too little attention on the whistleblower program," the GAO report says. "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."
In its response, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels says the agency is working hard to ensure protection for whistleblowers with its available resources. He cites a comprehensive review of the program under way to identify any weaknesses and inefficiencies and make improvements.
OSHA received a similar statement in response to its criticism of Hawaii's occupational safety and health program. That state was specifically named as having "significant performance problems" which it blamed on staffing and funding cutbacks.
The report on Hawaii's program is one of 25 OSHA issued under its Enhanced Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation reports that provide detailed findings and recommendations on the operations of state OSHA programs.
While OSHA identified several states that have adopted standards and procedures exceeding federal OSHA requirements, it said the problems in Hawaii's program could result in a federal takeover if not corrected.
"We recognize that some of the problems we identified could stem from significant budget constraints in many of the states and may also be the result of less intensive federal oversight in recent years," Michaels said. "OSHA, through its regional offices, intends to provide assistance in the implementation of corrective actions and will work closely with state officials to review progress."
In her response to criticism of her state's program, Hawaii Labor and Industrial Relations Director Pearl Imada Iboshi blames reduced staffing levels.
However, Iboshi said HIOSH has received approval to fill two health inspector positions, which she said is a step in the right direction and a show of good faith.
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November 8, 2010
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