BNSF Railway Reaches Whistle-Blower Accord with OSHA

By Roy Maurer Jan 23, 2013

BNSF Railway has agreed to change its policies on reporting workplace injuries and handling whistle-blower complaints as part of an agreement with federal regulators.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and BNSF signed an accord Jan. 15, 2013, announcing the railroad’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistle-blower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries.

The FRSA protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation 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,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels in a press release. “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.”

The agreement requires BNSF to:

  • Make settlement offers in 36 cases to employees who filed whistle-blower complaints with OSHA.
  • Change its disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation after a suspension for a serious rule violation.
  • End a policy under which points were assigned to employees who sustained on-the-job injuries.
  • Mandate that managers review cases in which an employee who reported an injury is disciplined.
  • Start a training program for its managers, labor-relations experts and human resource professionals to educate them about their responsibilities under the FRSA. The training will be incorporated into BNSF’s annual supervisor certification program.

Majority of Railroad Complaints Involve Retaliation

Between August 2007, when OSHA was assigned responsibility for whistle-blower complaints under the FRSA, and September 2012, OSHA received 1,206 FRSA whistle-blower complaints. The number of these complaints that OSHA currently receives surpasses the number of whistle-blower complaints that it receives under any of the other 21 whistle-blower-protection statutes it enforces except for the whistle-blower provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the agency reported. More than 60 percent of the FRSA complaints filed with OSHA involve an allegation that a railroad worker has been retaliated against for reporting an on-the-job injury.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.


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