The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a final rule establishing procedures and time frames for handling employee retaliation complaints under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which took effect Dec. 14.
Enacted in July 2012, MAP-21 protects employees of automobile manufacturers, auto part suppliers, and car dealerships who have been terminated or otherwise retaliated against for voicing concerns to their employer or to federal regulators over auto defects or violations of motor vehicle safety standards.
In March, OSHA published an interim final rule and opened it to public comment. It met little resistance. The agency received just one comment, which did not require it to revise the rule.
The need for effective auto industry whistleblower laws and protections became ever more clear in recent years amid a series of scandals that led to record penalties and recalls. An investigation of the deadly ignition switch defect in General Motors vehicles found that several company officials were aware of the flaw but failed to comply with federal safety rules and fix the problem.
GM’s ignition switch scandal was succeeded by Takata’s defective airbag scandal, which affects more than 70 million vehicles worldwide and prompted the largest automotive recall in history. The Japanese auto supplier knew the ammonium nitrate it used as a propellant in its airbags was extremely volatile, but used it anyway to save money. As a result, vehicles made by more than a dozen automakers over more than a decade were equipped with potentially deadly airbags that are prone to explode.
Last year, news broke that German automaker Volkswagen had equipped hundreds of thousands of diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. with an emissions cheat that allowed them to spew noxious gases undetected.
Strong whistleblower incentives and protections for auto industry workers could have precluded all of these safety problems and violations, saved lives, prevented thousands of injuries, and even saved automakers and suppliers billions of dollars.
“Every worker in the automotive industry should feel secure with raising concerns about workplace hazards without fear of retaliation,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “This final rule protects those workers who report conditions or activities that jeopardize their safety or the safety of the public.”