OSHA head plans to improve whistleblower program

Dr. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, made his first public remarks today about his plans for OSHA’s whistleblower program. The occasion was a meeting of Professionals for the Public Interest. Dr. Michaels opened by stating that

Dr. David Michaels (left) (of OSHA) and Paul Almeida (right) (of the AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees) speak at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

"whistleblowers serve an essential role in protecting the public." He decried how whistleblowers have to risk their jobs, and sometimes their lives. He said that without robust whistleblower protections, voices may be silenced. He recognized that the whistleblower program at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are "not nearly effective enough." He decried the patchwork of laws that protect only some of the people, and in uneven ways. Although OSHA has issued some notable reinstatement and compensatory orders for whistleblowers (recounted earlier on this blog), OSHA is still ruling in favor of whistleblowers in only about 3% of all the whistleblower cases it investigates.  Twenty percent (20%) are settled, 14% withdrawn, and 63% dismissed. Dr. Michaels said he did not believe that two-thirds of the cases were filed by whistleblowers who had no legitimate claim. Instead, "institutional barriers stand between whistleblowers and justice."

Dr. Michaels listed some things OSHA is already doing to improve its whistleblower program:

By my count, Dr. Michaels was saying all the right things. OSHA is a big organization, and it takes time to make changes. Accepting that, we can feel gratified that the charging are finally pointing in the right direction. Dr. Michaels concluded his remarks by recognizing that whistleblowers are an essential part of strong enforcement. He invited stakeholders to share their ideas for improving the whistleblower program. "Our nation will be better for it."

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