OSHA Expert Files Whistleblower Complaint

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

OSHA Expert Files Whistleblower Complaint

Workplace Injury and illness Records So Poor That Progress Claims Are Illusory

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s top
expert and foremost critic on workplace injury and illness records was
pushed out of his job illegally, according to legal pleadings filed
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For
nearly 25 years, Robert Whitmore was the top OSHA official overseeing
OSHA recordkeeping requirements before he was put on paid
administrative leave for more than two years, and then finally
terminated this summer.

During the Bush years, Whitmore became
increasingly vocal in criticizing the steady decline in the accuracy of
mandated industry reports of on-the-job accidents and illnesses, as
well as his agency’s growing aversion toward enforcing recordkeeping
requirements. In congressional testimony last year, Whitmore stated
that agency claims of safer and healthier workplaces could no longer be
supported:  

“I contend that the current OSHA Injury
and Illness information is inaccurate, due in part to wide scale
underreporting by employers and OSHA’s willingness to accept these
falsified numbers. There are many reasons why OSHA would accept these
numbers, but one important institutional factor has dramatically
affected the Agency since 1992, regardless of the political party in
power: steady annual declines in the number of workplace injuries and
illnesses make it appear that OSHA is fulfilling its mission.”

OSHA management placed him on paid administrative leave back in July
2007 and left him there until the Washington Post ran a story about his
extraordinary bureaucratic exile on February 19, 2009. Shortly after
that piece ran, OSHA moved to fire Whitmore for “disruptive,
intimidating and inappropriate behavior” citing incidents that had
occurred more than two years earlier. Prior to the Bush administration,
Whitmore had won commendations during his 37-year Labor Department
career. PEER seeks to have Whitmore restored to his previous position
through a motion filed today with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection
Board, the tribunal which hears whistleblower complaints.

“Bob
Whitmore is the victim of management malpractice of the highest order,”
stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson who filed the “stay” motion to
return Whitmore to his job. “The only thing Bob Whitmore is guilty of
is unwillingness to tolerate official incompetence and malfeasance.”

Ironically, the Obama administration is now moving to adopt some of the
reforms that Whitmore had long urged. On September 30, 2009, OSHA
initiated an “Illness and Injury Recordkeeping National Emphasis
Program” that beefs up enforcement of industry reporting rules. It is
designed to “test OSHA’s ability to effectively target establishments
to identify under-recording of occupational injuries and illnesses”.

“By all rights, Bob Whitmore should be allowed to end his career
implementing the measures he fought to bring about,” Erickson added.
“If the Obama administration expects to meaningfully change OSHA, it is
going to need the help of inside reformers like Bob Whitmore.”

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Read the PEER motion

See Robert Whitmore’s June 2008 testimony before the House Education & Labor Committee

View the Whitmore termination decision letter

Look at the new OSHA workplace recordkeeping policy

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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