New Safety Accord Protects Railway Workers’ Whistleblower Rights


January 17, 2013

On Jan 15, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and leading freight railroad BNSF Railway Co., marked a big step forward for on-the-job safety by signing an accord that protects from retaliation workers who report on-the-job injuries.


Says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels:

Protecting America's railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries is an essential element in OSHA's mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so.

For too many railroad workers, an on-the-job injury means more than just a trip to the emergency room and a few weeks of disability. For some, it can cost them their job as well.

Says IBEW Railroad Department Director Bill Bohne’:

It’s been a serious problem with the railroads for years. You get hurt at work or have to work under unsafe conditions, but if you report it, the company punishes you.

But beefed up enforcement of the Federal Railway Safety Act, which protects whistleblowers from retaliation, by OSHA has helped put a damper on the practice, he says.

OSHA received over 1,200 whistleblower complaints by railroad workers between 2007 and 2012, higher than for all other whistleblower protection statutes enforced by the agency, except one.

Bohne’ hopes the new accord will set a new standard for entire the railway industry, helping to make sure workers are not intimidated from reporting workplace injuries.

The agreement changes the terms of BNSF’s disciplinary policy so on-the-job injuries no longer play a role in determining an employee’s probation following a suspension. Disciplinary points will also no longer be issued for injuries.

Says Michaels:

If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer's entire work force is put at risk because employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries.

The IBEW represents approximately 1,500 employees at BNSF.

Click here for more information about worker whistleblower rights.