Region 5 News Release: V-53
Wednesday, March 31, 1999
Contact: Juan Solano
PHONE : (312) 353-6976
OSHA LAUNCHES PILOT PROGRAM TO PROTECT WORKERS WHO REPORT SAFETY CONCERNS
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday announced a pilot whistleblower outreach program at the Ohio Safety and Health Congress in Cleveland to educate workers about their right to report safety and health problems without fear of reprisal from their employers.
The pilot program, which is targeted at workers in OSHA's Midwest region, which includes Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin, may later be expanded to other parts of the country. The initiative coincides with OSHA's push for greater protection than currently provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
"Workers must feel free to inform their employer or the government about dangerous working conditions," said OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress in a speech in Cleveland at the Ohio Safety and Health Congress. "They must not fear that being the bearer of bad tidings will result in bad news for them."
Jeffress said that many employees, unfortunately, do not feel free to report problems. And too many employers, he added, apparently think they can retaliate against whistleblowers with impunity.
While most employers are conscientious and want a safe workplace, Jeffress said, some will illegally fire employees or subject them to other forms of discrimination for reporting workplace safety, health or environmental problems. This discrimination may go unreported because workers are unaware of their rights and how to exercise those rights. Most importantly, many whistleblowers do not know OSHA is available to help remedy these situations.
"I have a message for those [employers] who'd rather fire workers than fix problems: Forget it," Jeffress said.
During the pilot campaign, OSHA will distribute a tri-lingual brochure written in English, Polish, and Spanish. The agency will also reach workers through radio public service announcements and by providing information to organizations concerned with worker rights.
The pilot program coincides with the Clinton Administration's intent to propose new legislation this year that will strengthen protection provided to whistleblowers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the law that created OSHA.
Among other things, the proposed legislation will increase from 30 to 180 days the time allowed for an employee to file a whistleblower-based discrimination complaint. The proposed legislation will also enable an employee to hire his or her own attorney to seek relief, and will allow an employee to have his or her case heard by a federal administrative law judge, rather than a U.S. District Court, as is currently required.
OSHA currently has jurisdiction to protect whistleblowers under 11 federal statutes. These laws are:
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Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
Surface Transportation Assistance Act
Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
International Safe Container Act
Energy Reorganization Act
Clean Air Act
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,and Liability Act
Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Safe Drinking Water Act
Solid Waste Disposal Act
Toxic Substances Control Act
This information is available to sensory-impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (312) 353-6976; TDD Message Referral Phone: 1-800-800-4571.