The Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established in May 2012. Its charter was re-established in May 2014, enabling the committee to continue advising and making recommendations to the Secretary of Labor and the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health on ways to improve the fairness, efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA’s whistleblower protection activities.
While advisory only, the WPAC could impact your organization because OSHA’s whistleblower protection activities are broader than you might think. It enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace regulations, including commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety and consumer financial reform regulations. As this list illustrates, it is responsible for protecting whistleblowers in areas beyond safety and health. For example, in April of this year OSHA issued an interim final rule protecting whistleblowers under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, and in June it found that a New York company had violated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act by firing a worker who had reported investor fraud.
To ensure balance in its advice and recommendations across the various areas of concern and across all stakeholder groups, WPAC consists of twelve members, with four members representing management, four representing labor, one representing state occupational safety & health plans, and three representing the public. In addition, the committee has three non-voting representatives from federal agencies that are responsible for whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA.
Members sit on one of three work groups, which each focus on areas of particular interest to OSHA.
This year the 11(c) work group is tasked with providing advice regarding OSHA enforcement policies and practices and with analyzing any shortcomings in the current 11(c) statute. The Best Practices and Corporate Culture work group is tasked with identifying, investigating, and evaluating public and private programs that best ensure “prevention and cultural discouragement of retaliation against whistleblowers.” The Transportation Industry work group will focus on assessing the effectiveness of existing legislation to prevent practices that threaten the ability of employees to raise concerns. OSHA has asked for the group’s advice on where and how to most effectively focus its enforcement and outreach efforts within this industry.
Want to learn more about WPAC’s efforts? Once each in the past two years WPAC has posted copies of its meeting agenda, minutes, and complete transcript – a good way to get a feel for its efforts in the preceding year. You’ll find those records under the “meetings” tab at www.whistleblowers.gov/wpac.html.
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OSHA. 2014a. OSHA News Releases – Whistleblower webpage. Accessed September 5. http://www.whistleblowers.gov/news_page.html
OSHA. 2014b. Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee webpage. Accessed September 5, 2014. http://www.whistleblowers.gov/wpac.html