OSHA and FRA reach whistleblower agreement after July 4 Chicago accident


FRA and OSHA reached an agreement on a whistleblower policy.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a partnership on July 16 with the Federal Railroad administration that will improve the rights of whistleblowers.

"The safety of railroad employees depends on workers' ability to report injuries, incidents and hazards without fear of retaliation," said David Michaels, the assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "OSHA welcomes the opportunity to work with FRA to protect these rights and make our nation's railroads a safer place to work."

According to OSHA, railroad whistleblower complaints have risen in the past five years. Between 2007 and 2012, more than 900 whistleblower complaints have gone to OSHA through the FRA. These whistleblower complaints can be a healthy tool to help companies prevent workplace incidents that could end up fatal, similar to the Fourth of July incident that happened on a Union Pacific (UP) railroad outside of Chicago.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, a UP employee responsible for the railroad's signal system reported to a track inspector that something wasn't quite right with a stretch of track that went through a residential area.

Although the employee followed his OSHA and job training well by reporting something suspicious, the inspector did not show up in time to prevent 28 cars from derailing and causing a bridge to collapse, leading to the unfortunate death of two people.

UP engineers told the Tribune that due to a heatwave, the steel tracks expanded, creating a "kink" in the railway. That "kink" is what caused the cars to derail.

Residents and other officials in the area have voiced their concerns of the event to the Tribune, saying that if its a heat-induced incident, then why hasn't it happened in other places?

Regardless of the ruling, it's clear the railroad companies much like UP must ensure their employees are well trained for many potentially dangerous situations. By using a learning management software that includes online OSHA training, these companies will more effectively and efficiently train their workforce. 

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