Category Archives: OSHA

Better Bone Up on Whistleblower Policies!

Consider this a wake-up call to get on top of your state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration checklists as they apply to whistleblowing, and where you’re fuzzy, start cramming NOW.

This story from the Society for Human Resource Management (subscription site) suggests there are lots of problems out there in states and territories that run their own occupational-safety programs when it comes to how whistleblowers are being responded to and treated.

Here’s the entire rundown — from the U.S. Department of Labor — of the State Occupational Safety and Health Plans’ Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) Reports, so you can find your own state’s status and all the whislteblowing references therein.

Problems highlighted in the SHRM piece include failing to interview workers subject to alleged retaliation and their supervisors, the existence of state laws that could discourage complaints, shoddy record-keeping and poor case-file management.

More specifically, Arizona’s OS program lacks a consistent policy or practice of informing complainants of their right to file with the federal OSHA concurrently, Hawaii’s OSHA lacks a separate whistleblower-retaliation-investigation department, and California and Nevada are leaving files incomplete and often devoid of interviews with retaliation complainants.

Granted, this story points to state agencies in dire need of cleaning up their acts, but I have no doubt that workers filing whistleblower-retaliation complaints who don’t get the treatment they deserve under the law, will go after the offending employer as well.



Compliance Help on the Rise

Funny, in the past two days, I’ve come across two new tools in the “HR space marketplace” designed to help employers comply with ever-changing legislation and regulations where the government seems to be leaving an ever-widening void.

Just today, I found a Top 10 Environmental and Safety Concerns list from KPA. (This link will take you to several other links about it, including a webinar you might want to check out.) The list helps managers in the auto industry, specifically dealerships and service centers, know what the latest hot buttons are for compliance and worker safety under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Until now,” this release states, “there was only one way for [these managers] to know what the hot buttons were … . They had to sift through OSHA’s annual publication of citations for the entire transportation industry. From that list, they could try to decipher which citations were most likely to happen at their facility.

“The problem is that the transportation industry is a general index, and there are big differences between safety concerns at a dealership and safety concerns at a shipyard, which means that OSHA’s list is too general to be helpful for most dealerships and service centers.”

Gosh, you’d think someone at OSHA would have been first with this Top 10 list, in the name of proactive governmental compliance guidance.

Then, just yesterday, in researching a piece on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliance help — and a perceived growing lack thereof by some employment attorneys — one of those attorneys pointed me to this tool at Biddle Consulting called the Adverse Impact Toolkit, which can audit and analyze all of a company’s practices—hiring, compensation, promotion, etc.—to determine risks that could spark or enflame an EEOC investigation.

Although all agencies do provide education and guidance, the list of regulations governing every industry is only getting more complex and hard to navigate. And, if we’re to believe a growing chorus of employment attorneys, governmental compliance help before a lawsuit or citation is filed is growing scarce.

I suspect I’ll be seeing a lot more of these kinds of tools hitting the market in the not-too-distant future.

Two More Years? Or Six More?

On the same day President Obama began his re-election campaign, Shawn McBurney, senior vice president of govermental affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Association, spoke of the way the hospitality industry was being targeted by his administration.

“For those of you who feel persecuted, you should,” he said, noting that the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Labor Relations Board, to name just a few, are looking hard to find violations of workers’ rights.

The DOL, he said, believes the hospitality industry “is evil and they are targeting the industry.”

The comments were part of a session on public policy and HR strategy at the 5th Annual HR in Hospitality® Conference, which drew more than 275 attendees to the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington. The event runs April 4 to 6.

And even when there is not ill intent, off-the-cuff comments by politicians can be harmful, said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of public affairs and strategy development at the U.S. Travel Association. He mentioned Obama’s infamous-in-the-industry remarks about discouraging travelers from going to Las Vegas, Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks about not traveling by air when fears of swine flu were rampant, and a U.S. General Services Administration notice to the effect that any trips not taken are good for the environment.

That last statement, Freeman said, was made without any study being done or being grounded in any data. In fact, he said, the truth might be just the opposite: Employees who are on business trips or at conferences may use less energy because they are grounded in one spot and are not driving to work or taking subways every day.

Regardless of whether Obama wins re-election or not, however, the deficit may drive whoever is in power to reconsider the ability of companies to write off healthcare and retirement costs, said Mike Aitken, director of governmental affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management. Those two tax write-offs offer the most potential revenue to the government, ranking even above the home-mortgage deduction.

Companies should also be wary, Aitken said, of actions emanating from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been examining “barriers to employment,” including age, credit reports, criminal-background checks and even unemployment. Credit and criminal checks, he said, are areas the EEOC is “particularly interested in.”

Immigration is another area where the government believes “we are the bad guys,” Aitken said. The Department of Homeland Security collected $1 million in fines in 2009 from-employer violations. In 2010, he said, the total fines collected were $7 million. And DHS is continuing to increase its enforcement efforts.

Mining Fatalities

I see from Jared’s post yesterday that the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in Montcoal, W.Va., which left 29 workers dead, was one of the deadliest workplace tragedies last year.

Sad to say, those 29 workers equaled only 40 percent of the 71 miners killed in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Twenty-three workers were killed in surface mining accidents, while 48 died underground. The leading cause of coal mining deaths was ignition or explosion, followed by powered haulage (such as conveyors or rail cars) and roof falls. For workers mining metals and nonmetals, the leading cause was powered haulage, followed by falling or sliding material, and machinery.

According to OSHA, nearly 13 percent of all fatal workplace injuries in 2009 were in the mining industry, ranking second on the list with half of the No. 1 most-hazardous industry: agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. That occupation accounted for 26 percent of workplace fatalities. See the full list here (PDF).

The mining administration has initiated a number of outreach and enforcement initiatives inlcuding education on health and safety standards, identifying and aggressively inspecting mines with histories of safety issues, and programs to reduce the backlog of contested citations.

One effort — at the legislative level — that so far has gone nowhere is a bill that could hold HR executives criminally liable for safety violations.

The bill, which was introduced in the last Congressional session, began as a response to the Upper Big Branch disaster, but morphed into what some experts called the most sweeping changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act in its 40-year history.

With Republicans in charge of the House, it’s likely that the bill, even if re-introduced, will remain a no-go for the foreseeable future. But effective efforts to make this deadly occupation safer would be warranted.