A Whistleblower on OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

Darrell Whitman is a former attorney and professor who became an Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs (OWPP) investigator in 2010. Whitman was a GS-12 Regional Investigator for OWPP, the U.S. Department of Labor, and OSHA. In 2011, Whitman and several other investigators began challenging abuses of power in OWPP’s Region 9 offices in San Francisco. They began voicing their concerns through internal union grievance procedures, and then began raising concerns to the OWPP Director and then Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. The group accused officials including Regional Supervisory Investigator Joshua Paul of various allegations of misconduct. As they continued to air their grievances, the group alleges to have become targets of personal attacks. Ultimately, Whitman was terminated on May 5, 2015, and four of the five original whistleblowers have been ...
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OSHA Announces Sweeping Changes in Final Rule on Silica

iStock_000087387009_Large The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released its final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. This is the first time OSHA has updated this rule since 1971. In updating the rule, OSHA has lowered the permissible exposure limit (PEL), as well as included requirements for exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping. OSHA presents the rule as two standards, one for general industry and maritime and the other for construction. Both standards are scheduled to go into effect on June 23, 2016. Industries will then have one to five years to meet most requirements. A known human carcinogen, crystalline silica exists in sand, stone, soil, concrete and other materials. Workers exposed to silica inhale particles that cause diseases such ...
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Stepped-Up DOJ Enforcement Signals Intent to Increase Criminal Prosecution of Workplace Safety Violations

Companies who have in the past considered OSHA penalties as a mere cost of doing business and not a significant deterrent should rethink their position and revamp their compliance programs based on recent steps taken by the Department of Justice (DOJ) which heighten the risk of non-compliance. The potential for criminal enforcement of workplace safety violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act has, in the past, not carried much of a deterrent effect because OSHA violations are classified as misdemeanors and were not frequently prosecuted.  Violations of federal environmental statutes, however, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, can include felonies, prison sentences, and multimillion dollar penalties.  The DOJ has signaled its intent to more aggressively pursue criminal enforcement of ...
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OSHA Report Analyzes First Year of New Reporting Requirements

Claim form In late 2014, many employers learned about the new OSHA injury and illness reporting requirements that were to go into effect as of Jan. 1, 2015. Under the new requirements, employers were required to report all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and all in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye within 24 hours of finding out about the incident. (Under the old rule, employers had the same reporting requirement for fatalities, but were only required to report in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees.) With the reporting requirements broadened to include all in-patient hospitalizations, it was naturally expected that more work-related injuries would be reported during 2015, the first year of the new rule. In a report released today by OSHA, entitled “Year One of OSHA’s Severe Injury Reporting Program: An ...
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Looking Beyond OSHA for Fall Safety Resources

shutterstock_168191825 As OSHA gears up for its yearly National Safety Stand Down to prevent falls in the construction industry, one can expect there to be an increase in available fall related information and resources. With each year’s initiative, OSHA provides substantial guidance for both employers and employees regarding safe practices and fall prevention. While one of the best places to find information on fall safety and OSHA compliance is through OSHA itself, there are many other resources that are just as accessible and may be of some utility. One such resource is through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH’s guidance on preventing fall injuries provides important data and training information. One of the most useful items is the free ladder safety app ...
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Employers Must Post Summaries of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses

iStock_000053899524_Large Employers are required to post a copy of OSHA’s Form 300A between February 1, 2016 and April 30, 2016. This form summarizes the job-related injuries and illnesses employees experienced during 2015. The summary must be posted in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted each year. Information contained on the summary includes the total number of deaths, injuries, poisonings, respiratory conditions, skin disorders, instances of hearing loss, and other illnesses experienced by the employees. Notably, businesses with ten or fewer employees and those in certain low-hazard industries are exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping and posting requirements. As of January 1, 2015, certain previously exempt industries must now post a copy of OSHA’s Form 300A. Lists of both exempt and newly covered industries are available on OSHA’s website. Among ...
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The Beryllium Equilibrium: OSHA Schedules Public Hearing on Proposed Rule Intended to Significantly Limit Worker Exposure to Beryllium

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration scheduled a hearing on February 29, 2016 in Washington D.C. to discuss its proposed rule governing occupational exposure limits for beryllium and beryllium compounds.  The proposed rule, which was published on August 7, 2015, would significantly lower workplace exposure to the chemical. OSHA’s present standard permits worker beryllium exposure to 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air over eight hours.  This standard was initially implemented by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948 and later adopted by OSHA in 1971.  OSHA’s proposed standard would reduce the eight-hour exposure limit to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and require additional protections, including personal protective equipment (PPE), medical exams, and training. By way of background, beryllium is a prevalent chemical in various industries. Its physical properties of great ...
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Groundbreaking OSHA Developments in 2015 to Directly Impact 2016 — and Beyond

As is often the case, the year’s end signals an opportunity to look back and reflect on significant developments that have occurred, to turn one’s attention forward – and to think ahead. This annual focus can relate to almost anything, including politics, entertainment, your health, your family, and yes – even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Now that 2016 is in full swing, we can see that 2015 was a groundbreaking year for OSHA. During that time, OSHA unveiled significant changes to some of its policies and regulations. These developments include a significant increase in citation penalties, an new mandate requiring employers to electronically report workplace illness and injury, a new enforcement-weighting system to promote more complex inspections, and an updated Field Operations Manual. There is little doubt ...
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OSHA Teams Up with Department of Justice to Utilize Criminal Prosecution to Protect Worker Safety

The United State Department of Justice and the United States Department of Labor have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to provide for the coordination of matters pertaining to worker safety that could lead to criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice. Under the Memorandum, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will work with OSHA, Mine Safety (MSHA), and Wage and Hour Division to investigate and prosecute worker endangerment violations. Over a year ago, the Departments of Justice and Labor began meeting to explore a joint effort to increase the frequency and effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of worker endangerment violations. This resulted in a decision to consolidate the authorities to pursue worker safety statutes within the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resource Division’s Environmental Crimes Section. In a letter sent on December ...
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OSHA Upping the Ante

Employers, get ready. Recent developments show that OSHA will step up its campaign of workplace investigations with measures that pursue an even greater degree of influence on you. In my recent article, “OSHA Ups the Ante in U.S. Workplaces,” I examined the impact on employers of the likely astronomical leap in monetary penalties coming soon to recipients of OSHA violations, the “name and shame” approach taken by the agency against violators, and a new enforcement weighting system — along with practical steps employers in all industries can implement to help avoid or reduce the risk of a citation.
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