After years of being ordered to systematically dismiss “slam-dunk” whistleblower cases, an Occupational Safety and Heath Administration (OSHA) investigator is now turning the tables on his own agency, alleging it is intentionally failing to protect employees and contractors who risk everything to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in their workplace.
Darrell Whitman, who has worked as an OSHA investigator for five years in the agency’s 9th region (American Samoa, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, and Nevada), told NBC Bay Area that rather than enforce laws designed to protect workers who report misconduct from retaliation, instead “OSHA is hostile to whistleblowers.”
OSHA is charged with enforcing the whistleblower provisions of numerous statutes spanning 22 industries from food production and pipeline safety to aviation and nuclear defense. Workers within these industries are encouraged to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in order to protect fellow employees and the general public.
But blowing the whistle almost always comes at a hefty price. Many whistleblowers experience some form of backlash, from harassment and threats, to demotion, character assassination, and termination, all of which can result in emotional and financial distress. To mitigate retaliation, OSHA is supposed to go to bat for the whistleblower and enforce whistleblower protections.
In Mr. Whitman’s region, from 2009 to 2014, OSHA processed 562 whistleblower cases but awarded merit for the whistleblower in just 15 of them. The figures for the other nine OSHA regions are equal or worse.
According to NBC News Bay Area, Mr. Whitman said he “discovered a disturbing pattern” in the way OSHA supervisors were instructing him and other investigators to handle whistleblower cases, including rushing investigations to eliminate a backlog of cases and unfairly dismissing perfectly valid complaints that should have been awarded merit.
“It is so incredibly absurd that we have placed our faith in these people who have no intention of following through to protect the public,” Mr. Whitman told NBC.
Mr. Whitman was so upset that some of the complaints he handled were thrown out that he took his concerns to OSHA’s national office in Washington D.C. The agency investigated and agreed with Mr. Whitman, finding merit in his complaint, yet no corrective action was taken.
“When you simply dismiss a case because you don’t like it or don’t want to stand up to business,” Whitman told NBC, “you are basically sending a message to other whistleblowers, don’t file a complaint because we’re not going to take it seriously.
“The message has gotten out to a lot of people. You either quit your job or keep your mouth shut because if a company doesn’t fire you or blacklist you, OSHA will destroy your life,” Mr. Whitman told NBC. “As a consequence there are a lot of things that aren’t being reported. And that’s the scarier part.”
Source: NBC News Bay Area