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November 03, 2023
OSHA, NLRB sign whistleblower enforcement agreement

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) signed an agreement outlining procedures for information-sharing, referrals, training, and outreach to bolster federal antiretaliation protections and strengthen the agencies’ partnership, OSHA and the NLRB announced October 31.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) enables OSHA and the Board to cooperate in their enforcement of related laws and to protect workers’ rights.

“Everyone should be able to exercise their legal rights in the workplace without fear of losing their job or other forms of punishment,” Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a joint statement. “Our partnership with the National Labor Relations Board will expand both of our agencies’ impact and effectiveness in protecting workers who raise concerns about workplace violations or retaliation.”

Provisions of the MOU include sharing information in complaints and investigative files relating to alleged violations of laws enforced by OSHA and violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It also establishes a framework for conducting coordinated investigations and inspections to facilitate enforcement action.

OSHA’s whistleblower protection authority was first established in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to protect workers who lodge safety or health complaints or cooperate with agency investigations of workplace safety and health violations. However, OSHA now is responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints under more than 20 federal statutes, ranging from aviation, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, food, motor vehicle, nuclear, and pipeline safety to anti-money laundering, criminal antitrust, environmental, financial reform, health insurance reform, maritime, public transportation, railroad, securities, and tax laws.

The MOU between the NLRB and OSHA remains effective for 5 years.

“Workplace safety can be a matter of life and death for workers and so the ability to report workplace hazards without fear of retaliation is critically important,” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer A. Abruzzo said in the agencies’ statement. “Today’s MOU will bolster protections for workers to speak out about unsafe working conditions by strengthening coordination between OSHA and the NLRB on our enforcement efforts.”

The agencies jointly created the fact sheet Building Safe & Healthy Workplaces that Promote Worker Voice to help workers understand what recourse they have when their rights are violated. 

Wisconsin foundry facing $234K OSHA fine following amputations

OSHA cited Waupaca Foundry Inc. with two repeat and six serious violations and proposed penalties totaling $234,385 after 2 employees in the mill room of the Wisconsin foundry suffered amputation injuries within 11 days of each another, the agency announced November 1.

Agency inspectors found that a 29-year-old employee suffered a fingertip amputation on April 27 when the employee’s hand was dragged into the pinch point between a chain link conveyor belt and discharge chute while removing jammed parts. On May 8, a 20-year-old employee’s hand was caught between a part and the stand grinding wheel, which also led to a fingertip amputation. The employee had been on the job about 6 months.

Both employees were using grinders to trim parts during the casting process and moving them through the process by conveyors when the incidents occurred, according to the agency.

The foundry lacked adequate machine guarding and energy control (lockout/tagout) procedures that would have prevented employees from making contact with moving machine parts. The agency cited the company in 2019 and 2021 for exposing workers to similar hazards.

Last month, OSHA announced that its lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards were among its top 10 most cited standards in fiscal year (FY) 2023, which ended September 30. Earlier this year, OSHA unveiled an “instance-by-instance” citation policy for serious violations of the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards. The agency also has an ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) addressing amputation hazards in manufacturing.

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