Posts Tagged ‘Occupational Safety and Health Administration’

UP retaliates against another injured worker

osha-logo_webAn investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that management of the Union Pacific Railroad added insult to injury when it blamed a worker in Roseville who was hurt on-the-job and then retaliated against him for reporting his injury in February 2011.

Investigators established that Union Pacific violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act when the company retaliated against the employee for reporting to his supervisors that he was hurt while lifting materials and equipment. As a result, OSHA has ordered the railroad to pay the worker $100,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.

This case follows a pattern of behavior by Union Pacific toward its injured employees. OSHA recently reported that the railroad has faced more than 200 whistleblower complaints nationwide since 2001.

“Union Pacific has repeatedly retaliated against workers who report on-the-job injuries,” said Barbara Goto, acting OSHA regional administrator in San Francisco. “That flies in the face of the protections that the FRSA affords.”

After being hurt, the employee in Roseville reported his injury. Although evidence at an investigatory hearing proved otherwise, Union Pacific charged the employee with causing his own injury by not using proper ergonomic and safety techniques. The company suspended him without pay for five days.

In November 2012, Union Pacific apparently changed course. The company expunged the employee’s record and paid him for the day he attended the investigation hearing and the five days of his suspension. Since the company voluntarily corrected the retaliation, OSHA assessed $50,000 in punitive damages.

Any of the parties in this case can file an appeal with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

Union Pacific is the principal operating company of Union Pacific Corp, which functions in 23 states across the western two-thirds of the United States. It has 47,000 employees and operates 8,000 locomotives over 32,000 route miles.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

OSHA's guide for winter weather

osha-logo_webWinter weather creates a variety of hazards that can significantly impact everyday tasks and work activities. These hazards include slippery roads and surfaces, strong winds and environmental cold.

Learning how to prepare for work during the winter, protect workers from the cold and other hazards that can cause illnesses, injuries, or fatalities, is essential to maintaining a safe work environment and completing tasks successfully.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has prepared a webpage dedicated to educating workers how to protect themselves during the winter months. Visit the webpage here.

Metro-North violates rights of Connecticut worker

OSHA logo; OSHAHARTFORD, Conn. – Metro-North’s actions against an injured worker have resulted in the largest punitive damages ever in a retaliation case under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. A recent investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration uncovered these details and revealed that the worker, who is employed as a coach cleaner for the commuter rail carrier, was retaliated against after reporting the knee injury he suffered on Nov. 17, 2011. As a result, the company has been ordered to pay the employee a total of $250,000 in punitive damages, $10,000 in compensatory damages and to cover reasonable attorney fees.

While driving the injured employee to the hospital, a Metro-North supervisor also intimidated the worker, reportedly telling the worker that railroad employees who are hurt on the job are written up for safety and are not considered for advancement or promotions within the company.

Unofficial reports from other employees appear to corroborate the supervisor’s claims. For instance, one worker smashed her foot with a barrel while on the job, yet she did not file an accident report and showed up to work every day using crutches in hope of keeping her injury record clean. Another worker was injured when her hand was caught in a broken door but, like her coworker, she did not fill out an incident report for fear of reprisal.

Shortly after the Connecticut employee reported the work-related injury, Metro-North issued disciplinary charges against him. The employee filed an initial Federal Railroad Safety Act anti-discrimination complaint with OSHA on April 19, 2012. An amended complaint was filed on April 9, 2013, after the railroad issued additional disciplinary charges against him.

“When employees, fearing retaliation, hesitate to report work-related injuries and the safety hazards that caused them, companies cannot fix safety problems and neither employees nor the public are safe,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “In this case, the Metro-North’s conduct was deliberate and discriminatory, and we have assessed the maximum amount in punitive damages allowed under the law.”

OSHA’s investigation found that the employee engaged in protected activity when he reported his injury and filed his complaints with OSHA, that Metro North knew these were protected activities and that these protected activities were contributing factors in Metro North’s subsequent disciplining of the employee.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published a preliminary Special Investigation Report dated November 19, 2014, regarding several recent accidents, including fatalities, involving Metro-North. The NTSB noted in their findings that “Metro-North Railroad did not have an effective program that encouraged all employees to report safety issues and observations.” OSHA’s findings here provide another example of this: if employees are discouraged from reporting injuries, the employees and the public are endangered as Metro-North cannot correct the conditions which caused the injuries.

In addition to paying punitive and compensatory damages, OSHA ordered Metro-North to expunge the employee’s record of all charges and disciplinary action. The company must also conduct training for all supervisors and managers on employee whistleblower rights and post a notice to employees of their whistleblower rights. Both the employee and the railroad have 30 days from receipt of OSHA’s findings to file objections and request a hearing before the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower* provisions of the FRSA Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.

Under these laws enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed employee rights information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

OSHA reiterates zero tolerance for worker retaliation

OSHA logo; OSHAHere we go again – or should we say, again and again and again and again.

This time it is Canadian National’s Illinois Central Railroad and short line Chicago, Ft. Wayne & Eastern Railroad that have been hit with more than $650,000 in sanctions by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for retaliating against three employees who reported workplace injuries and/or safety concerns.

Sadly, there is basis in fact for the refrain that no industry spends as much to hire and train new employees as do railroads and then works so hard to intimidate, harass and fire them.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said the more than $650,000 in sanctions is to go toward back wages and damages for two Illinois Central employees at the railroad’s Markham, Ill., yard, and a Chicago, Ft. Wayne and Eastern employee — all of whom were the targets of management retaliation in three separate incidents.

“It is critically important that railroad employees in the Midwest and across the nation know that OSHA intends to defend the rights of workers who report injuries and safety concerns,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels. “We will use the full force of the law to make sure that workers who are retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns are made whole.”

Michaels has said that before, in the wake of its investigations and sanctions against other railroads – and OSHA continues to deliver on its promise.

The Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970 extended whistleblower protection to employees retaliated against for reporting an injury or illness requiring medical attention. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 added additional requirements ensuring injured workers receive prompt medical attention. An employer is outright prohibited from disciplining an employee for requesting medical or first-aid treatment, or for following a physician’s orders, a physician’s treatment plan, or medical advice, or for reporting workplace safety concerns.

Retaliation, including threats of retaliation, is defined as firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denying benefits, failing to rehire, intimidation, reassignment affecting promotion prospects, or reducing pay or hours.

OSHA, which does not identify whistleblowers, said the first employee, a conductor, was injured in August 2008 when he was knocked unconscious and sustained injuries to his shoulder, back and head while switching railcars in Illinois Central’s Markham, Ill., yard. A knuckle that connects the cars allegedly broke, said OSHA, causing the cars to suddenly jolt and the employee to fall. The railroad held an investigative hearing and consequently terminated the conductor, alleging he had violated safety rules. 

OSHA, however, found that the worker was terminated in reprisal for reporting a work-related injury.

The second employee, a carman, reported an arm/shoulder injury in February 2008. While walking along a platform to inspect railcars in the poorly lit yard, said OSHA, the carman slipped on ice and tried to catch himself, which jolted his left arm and shoulder. The railroad held an investigative hearing and consequently terminated the carman for allegedly violating the company’s injury reporting procedures.

OSHA, however, concluded that the carman had properly reported the injury.

 In the third incident, OSHA said Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad – a RailAmerica property — wrongly terminated a conductor in retaliation for his raising concerns about workplace safety while serving as a union officer, and for reporting a trainmaster had instructed him to operate a train in violation of certain Federal Railroad Administration rules in June 2009 near Fort Wayne, Ind.

UTU designated legal counsel have pledged to investigate and assist UTU members in bringing complaints under these laws.

A rail employee may file a whistle-blower complaint directly with OSHA, or may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, general chairperson or state legislative director for assistance.

A listing of UTU designated legal counsel is available at:

https://smart-union.org/td/designated-legal-counsel/

or may be obtained from local or general committee officers or state legislative directors.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet, click on the following link:

www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-railroad.pdf

NS retaliation again slapped by OSHA

It is reasonable to wonder just how many millions of dollars in sanctions must be assessed against railroads by the federal government before they learn the lesson that employees are not the equivalent of number 2 pencils to be chewed on at will and discarded when convenient.

In the most recent comeuppance applied to Norfolk Southern by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, sanctions totaling more than $802,000 were imposed as punishment for violating the whistleblower protection provisions of the new section 20109 added by Congress in 2007 to the Railroad Safety Act. NS was found to have harassed, intimidated and ultimately fired three employees who reported and sought medical attention for on-duty injuries.

NS also was ordered by OSHA to expunge the disciplinary records of the three whistleblowers, post workplace notices regarding railroad employees’ whistleblower protection rights and provide training to its employees about these rights.

The latest OSHA fines — and there have been several in the past– against NS followed OSHA investigations in Greenville, S.C.; Louisville, Ky., and Harrisburg, Pa., each showing, according to OSHA,  “reasonable cause to believe that the employees’ reporting of their workplace injuries led to internal investigations and, ultimately, to dismissals from the company.”

OSHA does not release the names of whistleblowers. The Harrisburg employee was reportedly a conductor; the Louisville whistleblower an engineer and the Greenville whistleblower a maintenance-of-way employee.

“Firing workers for reporting an injury is not only illegal, it also endangers all workers. When workers are discouraged from reporting injuries, no investigation into the cause of an injury can occur,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “To prevent more injuries, railroad workers must be able to report an injury without fear of retaliation.”

In 2011, OSHA, in hitting NS with sanctions of more than $122,000, said NS’ culture of employee harassment and intimidation permitted the railroad to “maintain the appearance of an exemplary safety record and continue its 22-consecutive-year record as recipient of the E.H.Harriman Gold Medal Rail Safety Award.”

In the latest assessment of sanctions against NS, OSHA reported:

* A maintenance-of-way employee was charged with improper performance of duties after reporting an injury as a result of being hit by a NS highway vehicle. OSHA found he had been singled out and treated with bias because of reporting the injury.

* An engineer was charged with falsifying an injury and terminated after reporting he tripped and fell in a locomotive restroom. OSHA found the investigative hearing was flawed and orchestrated to intentionally support the decision to terminate the employee.

* A conductor was charged with making false and conflicting statements and terminated after reporting a head injury sustained when he blacked out and fell down steps while returning from the locomotive lavatory. OSHA said that the day before the injury, the employee had been lauded for excellent performance, highlighted by no lost work time due to injuries in his 35-year career. OSHA again found that the investigative hearing was flawed, and there was no evidence the employee intended to misrepresent his injury.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 extended whistleblower protection to employees who are retaliated against for reporting an injury or illness requiring medical attention. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 added additional requirements ensuring injured workers receive prompt medical attention. Prohibitions were imposed by Congress on carrier intimidation and harassment of injured workers in an effort to end a culture that placed the winning of carrier safety awards and year-end managerial bonuses as a higher priority than treatment and prevention of injuries.

The laws were passed by Congress after the UTU documented a railroad culture of harassment and intimidation against injured and ill workers. Their purpose is to protect rail workers from retaliation and threats of retaliation when they report injuries or illness, report that a carrier violated safety laws or regulations, or if the employee refuses to work under certain unsafe conditions or refuses to authorize the use of safety related equipment.

An employer is outright prohibited from disciplining an employee for requesting medical or first-aid treatment, or for following a physician’s orders, a physician’s treatment plan, or medical advice.

Retaliation, including threats of retaliation, is defined as firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denying benefits, failing to rehire, intimidation, reassignment affecting promotion prospects, or reducing pay or hours.

UTU designated legal counsel have pledged to investigate and assist UTU members in bringing complaints under these laws.

A rail employee may file a whistle-blower complaint directly with OSHA, or may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, general chairperson or state legislative director for assistance.

A listing of UTU designated legal counsel is available at:

https://smart-union.org/td/designated-legal-counsel/

or may be obtained from local or general committee officers or state legislative directors.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet, click on the following link:

www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-railroad.pdf

What part of ‘no’ can’t railroads understand?

OSHA logo; OSHASadly, there is a part of “no” that railroads just can’t understand. So, once again, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has hit a railroad in the wallet for violating an employee’s rights as protected under the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, which was supplemented by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

The latest wallet-lightening fine was imposed by OSHA against Union Pacific for retaliating against a Pocatello, Idaho, based locomotive engineer who was forced to work and prevented from seeking medical treatment for a migraine headache, blurred vision, dizziness, vomiting and a bloody nose.

OSHA found that the engineer’s supervisor – who also was ordered to pay a portion of the fine – used “threats and intimidation to dissuade the engineer from seeking or gaining access to medical care during his shift.”

Yes, the UP supervisor chose to order an ill locomotive engineer, whose situational awareness was clearly compromised, to operate the train.

Said OSHA in imposing more than $25,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, plus attorney fees: “It is critically important that Union Pacific Railroad employees know that OSHA intends to defend the rights of workers to report safety concerns. We will bring the full force of the law to make sure workers who are retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns are made whole.”

Incredibly, this was the sixth time since 2009 that OSHA has found Union Pacific in violation of an employee’s rights enumerated by the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 and the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. BNSF, Metro North Railroad, Norfolk Southern and Wisconsin Central also have been penalized by OSHA for similar violations.

In late 2011, Union Pacific was ordered immediately to reinstate an employee and pay him back wages, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees totaling more than $300,000 after the employee was suspended, without pay, and then terminated after notifying UP of an on-the-job injury.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 extended whistleblower protection to employees who are retaliated against for reporting an injury or illness requiring medical attention. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 added additional requirements ensuring injured workers receive prompt medical attention, and established prohibitions on carrier intimidation and harassment of injured workers aimed at ending a culture that placed the winning of carrier safety awards and year-end managerial bonuses as a higher priority than treatment and prevention of injuries.

The purpose of these laws — passed by Congress after the UTU documented a railroad culture of harassment and intimidation against injured and ill workers — is to protect rail workers from retaliation and threats of retaliation when they report injuries or illness, report that a carrier violated safety laws or regulations, or if the employee refuses to work under certain unsafe conditions or refuses to authorize the use of safety related equipment.

An employer is outright prohibited from disciplining an employee for requesting medical or first-aid treatment, or for following a physician’s orders, a physician’s treatment plan, or medical advice.

Retaliation, including threats of retaliation, is defined as firing or laying off, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, disciplining, denying benefits, failing to rehire, intimidation, reassignment affecting promotion prospects, or reducing pay or hours.

Earlier this year, OSHA elevated in agency priority its whistleblower protection efforts, placing enforcement directly under OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor. OSHA said the elevation was an effort “to strengthen employees’ voices in the workplace.”

UTU designated legal counsel have pledged to investigate and assist UTU members in bringing complaints under these laws.

A rail employee may file a whistle-blower complaint directly with OSHA, or may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, general chairperson or state legislative director for assistance.

A listing of UTU designated legal counsel is available at https://smart-union.org/td/designated-legal-counsel/ or may be obtained from local or general committee officers or state legislative directors.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet, click on the following link:

www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-railroad.pdf

OSHA puts its own ‘hickory stick’ to BNSF

A UTU member will be collecting more than $95,000 in penalties assessed against BNSF by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for the railroad’s violation of the Federal Rail Safety Act.

OSHA found BNSF guilty of intimidating and harassing an injured UTU member who reported his workplace injury to the Federal Railroad Administration. The monetary award covers back wages, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

This is the first major award by OSHA after UTU International President Mike Futhey requested UTU designated legal counsel ramp up efforts to assist members whose whistle-blower rights under the Federal Rail Safety Act have been violated.

BNSF employee Ronald Helm (Local 1532, Kansas City), targeted for discipline after being injured on the job, didn’t feel so helpless against his powerful employer after his local chairperson, Joe Lopez, attended a seminar on whistle-blower rights given by a designated legal counsel. Helm is a 33-year veteran of the former Santa Fe and BNSF.

With assistance from General Chairperson Jim Huston (BNSF, GO 009), and committee Secretary Rex Pence, a case was developed and presented to OSHA, which administers the law as it applies to whistleblower protection.

Helm had been assessed a 30-day record suspension with no time lost, given one-year probation, and assessed 40 points against his personal performance index after reporting his personal injury to the FRA. Had the injury not been FRA reportable, he would have been assessed only five points.

BNSF said the penalty against Helm was for using a pin lifter, instead of a hickory stick, to adjust mismatched couplers in BNSF’s Argentine, Kan., yard. Evidence showed BNSF had not made the hickory stick available until after Helm’s injury.

Moreover, according to OSHA, BNSF’s discipline was arbitrary because BNSF typically does not discipline workers for using different tools if work is performed in a timely manner.

“An employer does not have the right to retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries,” said OSHA. And BNSF’s points system serves to discourage the proper reporting of workplace injuries, said OSHA.

In addition to the monetary penalty, BNSF was ordered to inform each of its employees in its Kansas Division — and in writing — of their whistle-blower rights under the Federal Rail Safety Act of 2007.

“This case and the work of our designated legal counsel shows that the federal law protecting whistle-blowers has teeth and that it can and will be used to stop the intimidation and harassment faced by our members,” Futhey said.

“UTU members who think they have been retaliated against for reporting workplace injuries should discuss the matter with a UTU designated legal counsel, their general chairperson or state legislative director,” said Futhey.

Complaints must be filed with OSHA within 180 days of the alleged employer retaliation.

Click on the following link for a listing of UTU designated legal counsel:

https://smart-union.org/td/designated-legal-counsel//

Click on the following link for a detailed OSHA fact sheet:

www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-railroad.pdf

OSHA affirms support for whistle-blowers

WASHINGTON – An official of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this week affirmed the agency’s support for whistle-blower protection.

OSHA enforces provisions of 19 laws protecting employees who report violations of various securities, trucking, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, workplace safety and health, consumer product safety, health care reform, and financial reform laws.

“OSHA’s Whistle-blower Protection Program exists because of a decades-old belief held by Congress, stakeholders, employers and society that whistle-blowers play an essential role in protecting workers and the public, said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor.

“Whistle-blowers can make the difference between lawful workplaces and places where workers fear for their livelihoods and even their lives if they raise concerns,” Michaels said.

“With our available resources,” he said, “OSHA is working hard to ensure that whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation. We are in the process of a top-to-bottom review of OSHA’s whistle-blower protection program.”

The comments came following a General Accountability Office audit of the OSHA Whistle-blower Protection Program. “OSHA has already begun taking action on items recommended in the GAO report, such as requiring all investigators and their supervisors to complete mandatory investigator training over the next 18 months, setting strategic goals and performance measures for the whistleblower program, and providing new equipment to field staff,” Michaels said.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to assure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Detailed information on employee whistle-blower rights, including fact sheets, is available at www.whistleblowers.gov