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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered Springfield Terminal Railway Inc. to pay $85,000 to an employee who faced an investigative hearing with possible disciplinary action or termination for reporting an on-the-job injury.
OSHA ordered the company to pay the employee $10,000 in compensatory damages, $75,000 in punitive damages, and attorney’s fees after determining that Springfield Terminal violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act when the company notified the employee of a mandatory hearing one day after he sustained the injury at the company’s Andover, Massachusetts, facility, reported his injury and was subjected to the hearing, according to an agency statement on Friday.
Springfield Terminal must also train managers and employees on proper reporting of injuries and illness, inform employees of their rights under FRSA and the Occupational Safety and Health Act and expunge any references to reporting an injury from the employee’s record.
“This order underscores the Department’s commitment to protect employees who report injuries or workplace conditions that could jeopardize employees’ health and safety,” Galen Blanton, OSHA regional administrator in Boston, said in the statement.
Springfield Terminal may appeal the order to the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, according to the statement. Springfield Terminal, operating as Pan Am Railways, is reviewing the decision to determine next steps regarding appeal, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.
“(Springfield Terminal) routinely has one of the best safety records of any similarly sized railroad in the U.S. as determined by the Federal Railroad Administration,” the company said in a statement. “(Springfield Terminal) prioritizes its commitment to safety above all else and takes seriously its responsibility to send each and every employee home safely at the end of each day and operate safely through the communities in which we run through. To assist in identifying the cause of injuries, accidents and incidents, so that steps may be taken to ensure that corrective measures are taken, (Springfield Terminal) routinely conducts investigatory hearings to determine the facts surrounding incidents and then makes a determination regarding whether those facts indicate a violation of safety rules, laws and/or regulations. As in this case, where (Springfield Terminal) determines that no rule violation occurred, no discipline is issued, though valuable information can still be gathered.”
These hearings are part of the process established by the Railway Labor Act and the company’s collective bargaining agreements with its unions and is similar to the process utilized by most railroads to determine the facts surrounding an incident, according to the statement.
“Despite the fact that this process has been used for decades, OSHA now takes the position that a simple hearing to gather information is retaliatory because the information gathered could lead to discipline if it is determined that a safety rule had been violated,” the statement said.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report safety violations.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ordered BNSF Railway Co. to pay more than $147,000 in back wages and damages after firing a track inspector for insubordination after the employee reported railroad track defects to management.