DuraLabel's Weekly Safety News

Blog Author Angelique Sanders

Weekly safety news. Stay in touch with regulations from OSHA, NFPA, and other safety codes. Find out about other companies' best and worst practices. We scour the internet to provide you with helpful training resources and the latest safety information.

Monday, September 03, 2012

OSHA Orders Over $1,240,000 In Whistleblower Penalties

Photo by Adam E. Moreira
OSHA has found that Norfolk Southern Railway Co. violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and has ordered the company to pay two whistleblowers a total of $932,070.46 in damages, including $387,813.75 in punitive damages and attorney's fees. Additionally, the company has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary records of the whistleblowers, post workplace notices regarding railroad employees' whistleblower protection rights and provide training to its employees about these rights.

The investigations were completed by OSHA's office in Chicago and revealed reasonable cause to believe that the employees' reporting of their workplace injuries led to internal investigations and, ultimately, dismissals from the company.

An investigation by OSHA upheld allegations made by a utility switchman based in Decatur, Ill., that he was terminated Aug. 28, 2009, after reporting an injury to his shoulder on June 24, 2009. The injury occurred while the switchman was riding a train that derailed during a shove movement of cars in the Decatur yard. Norfolk Southern alleged that the employee provided false or conflicting information regarding his injury, even though the investigative hearing and exhibits failed to show any conflict with the switchman reporting this injury. In April 2010, the Special Board of Adjustments reinstated the switchman with back pay, after a total loss of 10 months' wages, of which the company has repaid a portion.

OSHA has ordered the railroad to pay a total of $581,438.11, including $350,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, $150,000 in punitive damages, $55,000 in attorney's fees, and $26,438.11 in back wages and benefits. The company also has been ordered to reinstate the switchman to the proper seniority level, with vacation and sick days that would have been earned and credit of 10 months toward a Railroad Retirement Board Pension.

In Melvindale, Mich., OSHA's investigation upheld the allegations of a trackman who had worked at the company for 31 years that he was terminated Aug. 12, 2009, after Norfolk Southern alleged he made false statements regarding his injuries to receive time off. The trackman alleged he was injured while traveling from the Melvindale Terminal to a job site in Raisin Center, Mich., on July 6, 2009. The vehicle in which he was riding hit a rough patch of road, causing him to strike his head on the roof of the truck, resulting in a diagnosis of whiplash at a local medical facility. OSHA's investigation determined that the trackman's injury has caused severe medical problems involving his back, neck and shoulders, which restrict his ability to sit, stand, walk and operate machinery.

OSHA's order requires the company to reinstate the trackman if he is medically released by his physician and passes a functional capacity evaluation, and to pay him a total of $350,632.35, including compensatory damages of $150,000, punitive damages of $150,000, attorney's fees of $32,813.75, and medical and dental expenses in the amount of $17,818.60, which would have been covered by employee health insurance if he had not been terminated. The trackman has been unable to work since July 2009 and collected sick benefits until Jan. 1, 2010, when he began collecting Railroad Disability benefits; thus, back wages have not been ordered.

Any party to these cases can file an appeal with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of the findings.

Read the story in PilotOnline.com

In a separate whistleblower order this week OSHA has ordered M3 Transport LLC/SLT Expressway Inc. and its successors-in-interest, Lyons Capital LLC and the Roadmaster Group in Glendale, to reinstate a former employee and pay $280,000 in back wages and interest, $15,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages.

The order follows OSHA's determination that the company violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act when it terminated the truck driver in February 2010 in retaliation for complaining to management about safety issues and refusing to drive a truck containing explosives with a co-driver who smoked in the vehicle – a violation of U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.

OSHA opened a whistleblower investigation upon receiving a complaint from the terminated employee. The complaint alleged that on Feb. 8, 2010, the employee was informed that a new co-driver had been assigned to haul a vehicle full of explosives to Canada. Upon finding an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts in the new co-driver's truck, the employee notified supervisors that driving with this individual would be unacceptable because smoking while hauling explosives violates federal regulations. The employee was then told by management to go home and wait to be reassigned a new co-driver. Two days later, the employee was terminated.

In addition to reinstatement and compensation for the employee, the order issued by OSHA requires the trucking company to expunge any adverse references relating to the discharge from the complainant's personnel records, and post a notice for all employees notifying them of their rights under the STAA.

M3 Transport LLC/SLT Expressway Inc., now operating as the Roadmaster Group, specializes in transporting explosives for military and defense contractors, as well as heavy hauling. Within 30 days of receipt of OSHA's order, the company or complainant may file objections or request a hearing before the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.


posted by Steve Hudgik
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