OSHA: New Restructuring Plan Aims to Strengthen Whistleblower Protection Program

OSHA's 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.

In a continuing effort to improve the Whistleblower Protection Program, OSHA Monday announced that it is implementing additional measures to strengthen the program and is releasing an internal report detailing a recent top-to-bottom review of the program. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 21 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.

"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 OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "The new measures will significantly strengthen OSHA's enforcement of the 21 whistleblower laws that Congress charged OSHA with administering."

The Government Accountability Office audited OSHA's whistleblower program in 2009 and 2010, highlighting challenges related to transparency and accountability, training for investigators and managers, and the internal communications and audit program. OSHA also conducted an internal review that examined national and regional program structures, operational procedures, investigative processes, budget, equipment, and personnel issues.

"OSHA is committed to correcting the issues brought to light by the GAO report and our own review," said Dr. Michaels.

The changes to the Whistleblower Protection Program announced by OSHA include:

Restructuring

OSHA's 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. Commencing with its fiscal 2012 budget, OSHA established a separate line item for the whistleblower program to better track and hold accountable its activities and accomplishments.

Training

OSHA will hold a national whistleblower training conference in September which will be attended by all whistleblower investigators from both federal and state plans, as well as by Labor Department solicitors who work on whistleblower cases. In addition, OSHA will offer several other investigator training events, and will strive to ensure that all investigators and supervisors who have not received the mandatory training courses will receive them by the end of the calendar year.

Program Policy

OSHA revised and will soon issue a new edition of the Whistleblower Investigations Manual that updates current procedures and includes information on the new laws enacted since the manual was last updated in 2003. This new manual will provide further guidance on the enforcement program to help ensure consistency and quality of investigations.

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.

A copy of OSHA's internal review report is available at: http://www.whistleblowers.gov/report_summary_page.html.

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