On July 16, 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it has signed an agreement with the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) to “facilitate coordination and cooperation between agencies regarding enforcement of the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistleblower provision.” OSHA’s news release regarding the agreement went on to state that “The safety of railroad employees depends on workers’ ability to report injuries, incidents and hazards without fear of retaliation", said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA welcomes the opportunity to work with the FRA to protect these rights and make our nation’s railroads a safer place to work”.
Highlighting the Railroads’ widespread and ongoing acts of discrimination, the press release indicated that whistleblower complaints were on the rise and that “Between 2007 and 2012, OSHA received more than 900 whistleblower complaints under the FRSA, and almost 63 percent involved an allegation that a worker was retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.”
The agreement provides that the FRA will refer whistleblower complainants to OSHA. In return, OSHA will provide the FRA with copies of the complaints it receives and findings and preliminary orders that it issues. In addition, OSHA and the FRA “will jointly develop training to assist FRA enforcement staff in recognizing complaints of retaliation, and to OSHA enforcement staff in recognizing potential violations of railroad safety regulations revealed during whistleblower investigations.” The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the two states that the “FRA will also maintain a database of the complaints it receives from OSHA to monitor potential safety problem areas and issues in which FRA may be able to assist OSHA.”
It seems quite clear that despite OSHA’s ongoing work to eliminate discrimination under the FRSA, it needed a strong partner in those efforts. Hopefully, the agreement to share information and resources between OSHA and the FRA will make the Railroads think twice before disciplining its workers for illegal reasons.
A copy of the OSHA news release and Memorandum of Agreement can be found here.
By Matt Darby