The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
recently signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co.
that includes a voluntary revision of several on-the-job injury reporting and disciplinary policies. OSHA had alleged that certain BNSF policies violated whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and dissuaded workers from reporting injuries.
The provisions protect railroad workers from employer retaliation for reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to safety and security, including on-the-job injuries.
BNSF agreed to:
• change its disciplinary policy so injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee's probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation;
• eliminate a policy that assigned points to employees who sustained on-the-job injuries;
• revise a program that required increased safety counseling and prescribed operations testing so work-related injuries no longer will be the basis for enrolling employees in the program;
• institute a higher level review by upper management and the railroad's legal department for cases in which an employee who reports an on-duty personal injury is also assessed discipline related to the incident;
• implement a training program — which will be incorporated into the Class I's annual supervisor certification program — to educate managers, labor relations executives and human resources professionals about their responsibilities under the FRSA; and
• make settlement offers to employees in 36 cases in which whistleblower complaints were filed with OSHA alleging the workers were harmed by one or more of the railroad's previous policies.
"This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels in a prepared statement. "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."
Between August 2007, when OSHA was assigned responsibility for whistleblower complaints under FRSA, and September 2012, the agency received 1,206 FRSA whistleblower complaints. More than 60 percent of the complaints involved an allegation that a railroad worker had been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) officials hailed the accord as a significant victory for union members and all rail workers.
“It is noteworthy that the carrier stepped up to the plate and agreed to these long-overdue reforms,” said BLET National President Dennis Pierce in a prepared statement. "The National Division will continue to work with OSHA so that we can leverage today’s accord from property to property for the benefit of each BLET member."
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