August 29, 2014

OSHA, BNSF reach accord over whistleblowers

OSHA logo; OSHAWASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co. announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries.

FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“This is a tremendous victory for UTU members and all railroad workers employed by BNSF,” said UTU International President Mike Futhey. “The Obama administration’s efforts to stop the harassment and intimidation of employees concerned about safety in the workplace is a win for all workers. It is just one of the reasons why this union supported President Obama’s reelection.”

The major terms of the accord include:

•Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 36 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.

•Eliminating a policy that assigned points to employees who sustained on-the-job injuries.

•Revising a program that required increased safety counseling and prescribed operations testing so that work-related injuries will no longer be the basis for enrolling employees in the program. As part of the negotiations leading up to the accord, BNSF removed from the program approximately 400 workers.

•Instituting a higher level review by BNSF’s upper management and legal department for cases in which an employee who reports an on-duty personal injury is also assessed discipline related to the incident giving rise to the injury.

•Implementing a training program for BNSF’s managers and labor relations and human resources professionals to educate them about their responsibilities under the FRSA. The training will be incorporated into BNSF’s annual supervisor certification program.

•Making settlement offers in 36 cases to employees who filed whistleblower complaints with OSHA alleging they were harmed by one or more of the company’s previous policies.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.

“It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

“Ensuring that employees can report injuries or illnesses without fear of retaliation is crucial to protecting worker safety and health,” said Michaels. “If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk because employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries.”

To review the accord between OSHA and BNSF, click here.