The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule effective Monday, Nov. 9 providing better protections to employees of the railroad industry who blow the whistle on safety concerns, workplace injuries, and other concerns.
For years, railroad industry employees have been abused, harassed, demoted, and fired in retaliation for reporting injuries received on the job, refusing to perform dangerous tasks in violation of safety rules, voicing concerns about threats to public safety, and other actions that are supposed to be protected by industry-specific whistleblower statutes.
From October 2007 through June 2015, OSHA regulators received more than 2,000 complaints of retaliation filed by railroad industry employees. In fact, about 70 percent of whistleblower complaints in the period of time were made against U.S. railroads, with BNSF and Union Pacific receiving the lion’s share of those complaints.
The alarming number of railroad industry employees turning to OSHA for help prompted the agency to tighten and clarify the broad protections that railroad workers receive under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and the National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA), both of which are enforced by OSHA.
Among the changes, the final rule expressly prohibits any railroad company from denying, delaying, or interfering with the first-aid treatment or medical care of an employee who is injured on the job or as a result of work activities.
The new rule also clarifies the statute of limitations for complaints and establishes standards for what constitutes a valid complaint under the whistleblower statutes.
“Railroad workers have the right to report injuries and to follow their doctor’s treatment plans for injuries sustained in the course of their employment without fearing that they will be retaliated against,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Railroad and public transit agency workers must never be silenced by the threat of losing their job when their safety or the safety of the public is at stake.”