OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
Next month, many farm workers will gain better field sanitation and migrant housing protections and certain whistleblowers will see improved safeguards against unlawful retaliation -- both the result of a Labor Department reassignment plan aimed at bringing the best resources to serve the needs of workers.
Starting Monday, Feb. 3, the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will assume authority to investigate and resolve complaints of on-the-job discrimination against workers who call attention to violations of seven federal laws that protect the nation's air, water, environment and nuclear facilities. OSHA already enforces whistleblower protections under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act and the International Safe Container Act.
OSHA will inherit its new whistleblower authority from the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration (ESA) which, in turn, will begin to oversee compliance with field sanitation and migrant housing standards originally monitored by OSHA. Wage and Hour already enforces the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act which establishes labor standards for migrant and seasonal farm labor plus agricultural standards under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
"This is an example of the Clinton Administration's reinventing government to provide more efficient service and better protection for American workers," said Cynthia Metzler, acting secretary of labor. "OSHA has considerable experience in enforcing whistleblower protections under a number of laws, while the Wage and Hour Division has expertise in enforcing labor standards that protect migrant farm workers. This exchange in the Department of Labor plays to both agencies' strengths."
The Wage and Hour Division will enforce compliance by agricultural employers of requirements for adequate drinking water, hand washing and toilet facilities for farm workers as well as safe, sanitary housing in migrant labor camps.
OSHA will retain jurisdiction over temporary labor camps for egg, poultry or red meat production workers and for post-harvest processing of other agricultural or horticultural commodities. These sectors have had significant safety and health problems in the past.
Whistleblower protections now becoming OSHA's responsibility will include actions under the Clean Air Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Solid Waste Disposal Act; Toxic Substances Act; Federal Water Pollution Control Act; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Energy Reorganization Act (which concerns nuclear energy). OSHA already has a staff specifically assigned to investigate whistleblower violations, whereas Wage and Hour had to use its general compliance staff for such investigations.
OSHA and the Wage and Hour Division conducted a two-year-long pilot program on the exchange of responsibilities, tested in the region covering Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, that proved satisfactory to both agencies.
Nine of the 23 states and territories that have OSHA-approved state job safety and health programs covering private sector employment will also transfer authority for enforcing the field sanitation and migrant housing standards in agriculture to the Wage and Hour Division. They are Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
The 14 other states and territories with OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health programs covering private sector employment will retain enforcement authority for the field sanitation and migrant housing standards. Those states are Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Notice of the exchange of responsibilities between the two Labor Department agencies appeared in the Federal Register of Jan. 2. Notice of the transfer of authority from the nine state programs to the Wage and Hour Division to enforce field sanitation and temporary labor camp standards appeared in the Federal Register on Jan. 17.
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