Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ex-OSHA official says agency let employers underreport injuries

No surprise that the Bush administration protected business owners rather than employees health.

Posted on Thursday, November 5, 2009
By Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer

Bob Whitmore, a former federal OSHA official who contends the government has allowed companies to underreport workplace injuries, has filed a complaint alleging he was fired from his job in retaliation for speaking out about his agency's failings.

His whistle-blower complaint is set to be heard by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board in early December.

Formerly head of OSHA's record-keeping unit, Whitmore alleges agency officials want to silence his criticism and stop his push for a more aggressive approach with employers who underreport workplace injuries.

"When you challenge the agency's motives and integrity, that's heresy," Whitmore said Wednesday. "Obviously I did that. And I've paid the price for doing that."

Attorneys for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit that advocates for state and federal government workers, will represent Whitmore for free.

The MSPB hears complaints from federal employees who feel they have been unfairly treated or fired. In the large majority of complaints, the board rules in favor of the federal agencies. Employees who don't prevail before the MSPB can appeal to federal court.

Charlotte Observer reporters spoke with Whitmore while reporting on injuries inside poultry plants. The newspaper's investigation, published in February 2008, found that a number of injured employees weren't showing up on company injury logs. That made plants appear safer than they actually were.

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