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OSHA steps up whistleblower efforts

As employers are seeing an unprecedented increase in whistleblower-driven enforcements, OSHA has announced a plan to establish a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. The Committee will be charged with advising, consulting with, and making recommendations to improve OSHA's administration of 21 different whistleblower statutes. The recommendations will focus on ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of OSHA's administration of whistleblower protections associated with the various statutes.

For employers, this development signals a continuing regulatory focus on employees as a means to deter, detect, and enforce federal regulations. A recent example is OSHA's finding that Norfolk Southern Railway Co. violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The investigations revealed reasonable cause to believe that the employees' reporting of their workplace injuries led to internal investigations and, ultimately, to dismissals from the company.

The company has been ordered to pay three whistleblowers $802,168.70 in damages, including $525,000 in punitive damages and attorneys' fees. Additionally, the company has been ordered to expunge the disciplinary records of the whistleblowers, post workplace notices regarding railroad employees' whistleblower protection rights and provide training to its employees about these rights. OSHA's offices in Columbia, S.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Harrisburg, Pa, completed three concurrent investigations.

OSHA and NIOSH issue hazard alert on ensuring workers in hydraulic fracturing operations have appropriate protections from silica exposure

OSHA and NIOSH issued a hazard alert on ensuring that employers in hydraulic fracturing operations take appropriate steps to protect workers from silica exposure. The hazard alert follows a cooperative study by NIOSH and industry partners that identified overexposure to silica as a health hazard to workers conducting hydraulic fracturing operations.

The hazard alert can be viewed at

Recent fines and awards

Trench collapse buries worker; $168K fine for his death - California

A California construction company will pay a hefty Cal/OSHA fine and still faces possible criminal charges in connection with the death of a worker in an excavation collapse. US-Sino Investments of Fremont faces fines of $168,175 resulting from the investigation into the death of a carpenter who was buried alive under a 12-foot excavation wall at a Milpitas, CA, residential construction site.

Contractor cited for violations following arc blast at worksite that injured worker - Massachusetts

Interstate Electrical Services, a North Billerica electrical contractor, faces $81,000 in fines for alleged willful and serious violations following a November 2011 arc flash blast at an Andover jobsite. Two workers installing electrical service were seriously burned when a piece of equipment made contact with an energized part of an electrical panel, resulting in the arc flash.

OSHA proposes more than $193,000 in fines for stability, steel erection, cave-in, fall hazards at Kimball Union Academy site - New Hampshire, Pennsylvania

OSHA has proposed a total of $193,400 in fines for three Pennsylvania-based contractors for violations of workplace safety standards at a work site located at the Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H.

The largest penalties are proposed against JDE Inc. of Souderton, Penn., general contractor for the construction of a field house on the campus grounds. JDE faces $140,000 in proposed fines for failure to ensure that the concrete foundation was structurally sound and the structural steel was constantly stable during the erection process, and failure to protect its employees against fall and cave-in hazards.

Steel erection contractor Superior Fabric Structures of New Providence, Pa., and masonry contractor Pat Campion, doing business as Campion Construction Co. of Glenside, Pa., were also issued serious citations for steel erection, cave-in, and other hazards.

Contractor cited for fall and electrical hazards at Manhattan work site, proposes more than $94,000 in fines - New York

Core Continental Construction LLC was cited for 13 alleged violations, including six repeat violations, of workplace safety standards at a work site in Manhattan. The Flushing contractor faces a total of $94,380 in proposed fines, chiefly for electrical and fall hazards, following an inspection by OSHA's Manhattan Area Office.

Zoto's International faces $233,000 in fines for chemical, electrical and mechanical hazards - New York

OSHA has cited Zoto's International Inc., a hair care products manufacturer, with 44 alleged serious violations of workplace safety and health standards at the company's Geneva manufacturing plant. The manufacturer faces a total of $233,000 in fines for a cross-section of chemical, mechanical and electrical hazards following an inspection by OSHA's Syracuse Area Office.

Murray's Chicken faces fines of $67,500 for energy control violations - New York

MB Consultants Ltd., doing business as Murray's Chickens, was cited for eight alleged violations of workplace safety and health standards at the company's South Fallsburg chicken processing facility. Proposed fines total $67,600 for deficiencies in the facility's hazardous energy control, or "lockout/tagout" program, which is designed to prevent machinery from unintentionally starting up during maintenance.

Metal recycling company fined nearly $50,000 for worker overexposure to lead and arsenic - Pennsylvania

Abington Reldan Metals LLC faces fines of $48,600 for 11 serious safety violations, including overexposing workers to dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic, at the company's Fairless Hills facility. OSHA initiated a December 2011 inspection following a referral from the Pennsylvania State Department of Health, indicating that employees had high levels of lead in their blood.

Machine and Fabrication Shop faces $70,000 in penalties - Pennsylvania

OSHA has cited Bear Ridge Machine & Fabrication for 31 serious safety and health violations at their Frackville shop. The November inspection was initiated as part of OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting Program for industries with high injury and illness rates. Proposed penalties total $70,000.

Bridge reconstruction contractor cited for inadequate rescue and fall safeguards - Rhode Island

OSHA has cited the general contractor for the reconstruction of the Pawtucket River Bridge for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards for inadequate rescue procedures and for fall hazards. S&R/Pihl, a joint venture LLC, faces a total of $60,900 in proposed fines.

Cummings Marine Service cited for failure to address previously cited hazards - Tennessee

OSHA has cited Cummings Marine Service Inc. in Memphis for 11 safety and health violations primarily related to the company's failure to address previously cited hazards. OSHA conducted a programmed planned maritime inspection in February 2009 and initiated a follow-up inspection after receiving a complaint in December 2011. Proposed penalties total $89,420.

Beef packing manufacturer placed in Severe Violator Program - Wisconsin

After a maintenance worker electrocuted at VPP Group LLC's Norwalk, Wis., meat-processing facility, OSHA placed the company in the severe violator program. The company was cited with 11 safety violations, including two willful, and faces fines of $186,000. Another worker electrocuted at plant in 2009.

Detailed descriptions of the citations above and other OSHA citations can be found here.