Agreement Improves Coordination of Whistleblower Protections

OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration have signed a memorandum of agreement to facilitate coordination and cooperation between agencies regarding the enforcement of the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s whistleblower provision. The act protects railroad employees from retaliation when they report safety violations or work-related personal injuries or illnesses.

Rail safety regulations are developed and enforced by the FRA in cooperation with rail stakeholders, including rail labor organizations. Through inspection, enforcement and education, the FRA plays a key role in rail safety, and railroads are among the safest modes of transportation for passengers and freight. The FRA has broad authority over rail safety but does not have direct authority to address whistleblower incidents.

Whistleblower complaints in the railroad industry have been on the rise in recent years. 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 memorandum establishes procedures for the agencies to follow for whistleblower complaints. Under the agreement, the following steps will be taken:

• FRA will refer railroad employees who complain of alleged retaliation to OSHA.

• OSHA will provide the FRA with copies of the complaints it receives under the FRSA’s whistleblower provision, as well as any findings and preliminary orders that OSHA issues.
• The agencies will jointly develop training to assist FRA enforcement staff in recognizing complaints of retaliation, and to assist OSHA enforcement staff in recognizing potential violations of railroad safety regulations revealed during whistleblower investigations.

FRA and OSHA also sent a joint letter to railroad and transportation associations that expresses the agencies’ commitment to working together to ensure that injury/illness reporting is as accurate and consistent as possible. The letter highlights troubling railroad reporting trends and provides concrete ways that the associations’ member organizations can improve workplace safety and improve compliance with federal regulations.

The memorandum is available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=MOU&p_id=1125.

More information on whistleblower cases, including those related to the FRSA, can be found at http://www.whistleblowers.gov/wb_news_room.html.