OSHA Investigators Get Updated Whistleblowers Investigations Manual

Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...

By Bruce Rolfsen

A new directive for conducting whistleblower investigations was issued Sept. 20 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to address criticisms raised in two government reports.

The 249-page Whistleblower Investigations Manual (CPL 02-03-003) is another step in OSHA's overhaul of how it handles allegations of employers retaliating against workers for complaining about company practices and potentially illegal activities. The update replaces a manual issued in August 2003.

David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for safety and health, said Aug. 1 that OSHA would publish a revised manual as part of broader changes to whistleblower protection efforts, prompted in part by critical reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Labor Department Inspector General (41 OSHR 785, 9/15/11).

The GAO inquiry alleged serious shortcomings in the way OSHA trained its inspectors, audited the program, ensured consistent policies and procedures at the regional level, and kept accurate data on the outcomes of many cases (40 OSHR 788, 9/23/10).

Changes Clarify How Complaints May Be Filed

According to OSHA, the significant changes in the new manual:

  • clarify that whistleblower complaints may be filed in writing or orally in any language, and eventually electronically at http://whistleblowers.gov;
  • specify that the investigator must attempt to interview the complainant;
  • remove the requirement that a signed statement be obtained from relevant witnesses;
  • add three chapters covering complaints made under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, the National Transit Systems Security Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act;
  • expand guidance for dealing with uncooperative respondents and clarify procedures for issuing administrative subpoenas;
  • specify that reasonable attorneys' fees must be awarded where authorized by statute;
  • offer expanded guidance for use of bilateral settlements;
  • detail new procedures for review and approval of settlements;
  • update chapters on the Surface Transportation Assistance Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act resulting from the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and
  • explain changes to handling Privacy Act files and Freedom of Information Act requests.

The other initiatives approved by Michaels included putting the whistleblower program within the direct jurisdiction of his office, establishing a “more robust” outreach program to employees, and ensuring intensive training for inspectors (41 OSHR 667, 8/4/11).

The new Whistleblowers Investigation Manual is available at http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-03-003.pdf .

Request Occupational Safety & Health Reporter℠