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Officials ask for stronger whistleblower awareness

Representatives of businesses and workers in the trucking and railway industries have said that increased awareness of whistleblower rules could improve the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulatory efforts. With the amount of influence the industries have in New York and around the country, improved awareness could have a major impact. The specific issue is OSHA's plan to bolster its program for whistleblower protection. The agency held a session on June 12 at the headquarters of the Department of Labor, during which representatives set forth their cases.

The OSHA program currently gets approximately $17.5 million each year from Congress. The Trump administration has budgeted $17.4 million for the year 2019. OSHA is tasked with the enforcement of anti-retaliation requirements of 22 different laws that range from financial malfeasance to worker safety. Whistleblower protections are extended to transit, trucking and railroad workers by the National Transit Systems Security Act, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

Investigations of whistleblower complaints in ground transportation industries accounted for 22 percent of the cases OSHA opened during fiscal 2017. According to the federal affairs manager for a trucking owner-operator association, many of the drivers he represents have little or no awareness of the whistleblower protection rules. Other industry officials have called for a significant increase in the federal budget to increase awareness of protections, hopefully leading to greater reporting and compliance in transportation industry jobs.

Railroad workers who believe their employers have violated or are violating Federal Railroad Safety Act requirements may be able to rely on whistleblower statutes to protect them. An attorney might be able to help by examining the facts of the situation and providing guidance regarding reporting and the protections available. Whistleblower laws generally protect a person against retaliation for reporting conditions that violate federal statutes.

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