Thursday, February 28, 2013

OSHA: NS must redress whistleblower violations

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OSHA: NS must redress whistleblower violations OSHA

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has been ordered to pay $1.1 million to three workers following an investigation by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which found that the company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, OSHA said Thursday.

Two investigations, conducted by OSHA staff in Chicago and Pittsburgh, found that three employees were wrongfully fired for reporting workplace injuries. OSHA also has ordered NS "to expunge the disciplinary records of the three whistleblowers, post a notice regarding employees' whistleblower protection rights under the FRSA and train workers on these rights."

Norfolk Southern expressed its displeasure, with a spokesperson Thursday afternoon responding to a Railway Age request for comment saying, "Norfolk Southern disagrees with OSHA's decisions, which are the result of a flawed, one-sided procedure in which the railroad was not permitted to question the employees under oath or cross-examine witnesses. We will appeal the decision to an administrative law judge. This appeal will have the effect of voiding the decision and starting over using normal legal proceedings.

"Moreover, we are disappointed and surprised by OSHA's findings, as OSHA had earlier encouraged the parties to reach voluntary resolutions of the cases, and OSHA was aware that the parties had exchanged settlement offers and demands and were in the midst of discussing mediation," the NS spokesperson said.

Railroad carriers are subject to the FRSA, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other protected activities, OSHA said.

OSHA said the latest results "follow several other orders issued by OSHA against Norfolk Southern Railway Co. in the past two years. OSHA's investigations have found that the company continues to retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries, and these actions have effectively created a chilling effect in the railroad industry."

"The Labor Department's responsibility is to protect all employees, including those in the railroad industry, from retaliation for exercising these basic worker rights," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "Railroad workers must be able to report work-related injuries without fear of retaliation."