US Labor Department's OSHA orders Enercon Services to pay $261,152.69 in
damages after firing engineer who reported unsafe work practices
Investigation found violations of the Energy Reorganization Act whistle-blower provisions for
construction contract Enercon was completing at Wolf Creek Generating Station, a nuclear power plant
BURLINGTON, Kan. — Enercon Services Inc. has been ordered to pay $261,152.69 in back wages, compensatory damages and interest, plus attorney's fees, to a senior engineer following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which found that the company violated the whistle-blower provisions of the Energy Reorganization Act. An investigation conducted by OSHA staff in Kansas City, Mo., found that Enercon wrongfully terminated a senior engineer for raising safety concerns during construction projects Enercon Services was part of at the Wolf Creek Generating Station, a licensee of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, located in Burlington.
"Professionals who work in the nuclear power industry have a right and a responsibility to express their professional opinion and report safety-related concerns," said Marcia Drumm, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Kansas City. "The department's responsibility is to protect all employees from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights. The ERA protects the workers who, in turn, protect the public."
OSHA's investigation concluded that the licensed professional civil and structural engineer was terminated Jan. 30, 2012, for reporting breaches of minimum soil coverage requirements for emergency service water piping and for refusing to provide Enercon Services an engineering justification for the use of concrete as backfill over the piping. The breaches occurred when a trench was dug to bury a grounding cable for a new security fence being constructed for the emergency service water pump house at Wolf Creek. The trench encroached on the minimum soil coverage requirement for the pipes, necessitating that it be backfilled to bring the plant back in compliance. The evidence shows that a manager for Enercon Services proposed to backfill the pipes with concrete before the arrival of NRC inspectors, but that the engineer refused to implement the design change because he believed concrete fill was insufficient. The engineer was fired a few days later. Wolf Creek ultimately used cohesive soil as backfill over the pipes.
The agency has ordered Enercon Services to reinstate the engineer to his former position with all pay, benefits and rights and pay back wages of $206,360, plus interest currently estimated at $4,142.69, compensatory damages of $50,650 and reasonable attorney fees. The ERA does not provide for an award of punitive damages.
Any party to these cases can file an appeal with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of the findings.
Enercon Services Inc. provides engineering support services to nuclear facilities nationwide. Its headquarters are in Kennesaw, Ga.
Companies providing services to nuclear power plants are subject to the ERA, and may not discharge any employee or otherwise discriminate against any employee with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the employee notified his employer of an alleged violation of the ERA or the Atomic Energy Act of l954.
OSHA enforces the whistle-blower provisions of the ERA 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, 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 Whistle-blower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistle-blower 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.
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistle-blower complaints.
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U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille or CD from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.