"Between August 3, 2007 and March 31, 2012, OSHA received 901 whistleblower complaints. ... Approximately 63 percent of these complaints involve an allegation that a worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury," states the letter from OSHA and the Federal Railroad Administration. "FRA and OSHA are very concerned about the high number of complaints, and that the number of whistleblower complaints is escalating."
The letter was sent as the two agencies signed a memorandum of agreement to cooperate on enforcing the Federal Railroad Safety Act's whistleblower provision. It protects railroad employees from retaliation when they report safety violations or work-related personal injuries or illnesses.
"This memorandum is a watershed moment for both railroads and labor alike," said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo. "Securing a process that protects employees who report safety violations is critical to maintaining safety standards in the workplace."
In the letter to the Association of American Railroads, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the American Public Transportation Association, OSHA and FRA officials indicated that injured workers are disciplined for rule infractions while uninjured workers who violate rules are not punished. "The perception that injured employees are being singled out for discipline, while non-injured employees who violate the same rules are not disciplined, leads to the development of an organizational safety culture that may inadvertently suppress accurate reporting."
The letter also said some employees were disciplined for allegedly falsifying or making false, misleading, or conflicting statements about their injuries. However, it said investigators ultimately determined in some cases that the employee did not provide false or misleading information and that the railroad's internal investigation did not support the charge.
"We believe that the use of employee discipline as part of a railroad safety program may result in reducing the number of injuries reported by employees, but it will not ultimately succeed in reducing the actual occurrence of injuries," the letter states. "FRA and OSHA are concerned that if employees fear discipline and do not report an injury that has occurred, we all lose the opportunity to determine the root cause of the injury and focus on prevention."
Amtrak was cited as an example of how to implement effective changes and improve safety. Following changes to its accident and incident reporting policies, the number of FRA-reportable injuries increased due to improved injury reporting. At the same time, the number of whistleblower complaints dropped.
"With the additional data generated by the increased injury reporting, Amtrak management has been better able to address the origins of injuries and prevent future injuries," the letter said.
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September 4, 2012
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