BNSF Railway Co. has reached a voluntary accord with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration covering the railroad's policies for employees who report on-the-job injuries, OSHA announced Jan. 15.
OSHA and BNSF have been at odds over how the company treats workers who report injuries (41 OSHR 743, 8/25/11; 40 OSHR 1059, 12/23/10).
OSHA officials had said company policies discriminate against workers who report injuries, a practice protected by the Federal Railroad Safety Act. BNSF had countered that the company was enforcing its safety policies.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, who signed the agreement Jan. 13, said, “This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so.
“It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries,” Michaels added.
Mark Schulze, BNSF vice president for safety, training, and operations support, said the railroad is “pleased to have voluntarily worked with OSHA in a cooperative and constructive manner to have clarified issues.”
BNSF policies will continue to “be a valuable tool to hold employees accountable for rules violations that could lead to injuries,” Schulze said.
Schulze noted that in August 2012, BNSF made changes to its employee performance accountability policy, and in October 2012 to its employee review process policy, changes recognized by OSHA as part of the accord.
The provisions of the agreement include:
• making settlement offers in 36 cases to employees who filed whistleblower complaints with OSHA alleging they were harmed by the company's previous policies,
• changing BNSF's disciplinary policy so injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee's probation following a suspension for a serious rule violation (OSHA noted that as of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF had reduced the probation periods of 136 employees serving longer probations because they had been injured on the job),
• ending a BNSF policy that assigned points to employees who sustained on-the-job injuries,
• revising a program that required increased safety counseling and prescribed operations testing, so that work-related injuries will no longer be the basis for enrolling employees in the program. As part of the negotiations leading up to the accord, BNSF removed about 400 workers from the program,
• instituting a review by BNSF's upper management and legal department for cases in which an employee who reports an on-duty injury is also disciplined for the incident, and
• starting a training program for BNSF managers, labor relations experts, and human resources professionals to educate them about their responsibilities under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The training will be incorporated into BNSF's annual supervisor certification program.
By Bruce Rolfsen
The accord is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov/acts/bnsf_accord.html.