Health and Safety Violations and Whistleblowers
Health and safety regulations exist in every industry in the United States. Every worker is conceivably exposed to health and safety violations on a regular basis and this may easily be the most common form of whistle-blowing in the economy. There are many regulations to cover health and safety in the workplace and all companies have some sort of a company policy in terms of safety, regardless of the capacity for violations.
Workers that are constantly involved in dangerous working situations are normally sensitive to safety rules and policies, but safety programs can also be counter to the company's production goals. Corner-cutting is common in all forms of business and many workers are conflicted in whether to report safety violations that exist due to production concerns. When the violations are systemic, the worker should be protected against retaliation if the condition is reported.
Situations of this type are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and enhanced over the years for particular industries and materials, such as asbestos and other hazardous chemicals. Other legislation allows the whistleblower who is a victim of retaliation from a publicly-traded company to enjoin the government in pursuit of any civil financial recovery and be compensated by a percentage of the damages. The Zarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 establishes this legal standing.
The federal legislation is administered by the Occupational Health and Safety Agency, commonly called OSHA, and has a very broad application across the nation. OSHA is a regulatory agency that has many divisions covering both general and specialized production industries. They also work in conjunction with other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, because of the vast responsibility.
Regular inspections are held by OSHA and its sub-agencies in all industries, often based on industry need. Industries such as poultry products have USDA officials on hand at the facility at all times. This network of specific micro-oversight is a subset of the access that a potential whistleblower has to the system as a protection device. All of these types of operations are classified with OSHA and would be a good resource for anyone with accurate information about safety and health violations. The OSHA offices are traditionally managed within each state to allow for better local coverage.
Deciding to blow the whistle on dangerous working situations would appear to be an easy choice, but that may not often be the case for individuals working for smaller companies. At that level of the economy it is difficult to pursue, but OSHA agencies have historically been very efficient in responding to complaints from common workers who have presented valid concerns and situations, especially if the problems endanger multiple workers.
Anonymous claims may not always be the best resort, as the legal protections are based in documentation and the whistleblower needs protective documentation to present their case in the event of retaliation from the employer. Before deciding to blow the whistle it is a good idea to do some homework.