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$1.1 million payment ordered by OSHA to Norfolk Southern Railway Co. after terminating 3 workers for reporting injuries because Norfolk violated the Whistleblower Act

I have had management say to me, “I am sure they (employee) were injured at home and not at work, but I can’t prove it.”  My response to them is typically, “That may well be, but you have to take care of the employee.”  Some of the injury reports I read do lend themselves to possible fraud by employees.  On the other hand I believe that there are many injures that do not get reported by employees.  We all tend to forget that reporting injures is a way of learning what we can do to prevent a repeated event.
In the case of Norfolk Southern Railway Company, employees involved in a vehicle incident first reported minor pain and stiffness in the shoulder area. The employees turned down medical attention until later.  Management took action following an investigation and fired the employees.  OSHA felt that the employees were fired for turning in the injuries which lead to the company being fined.
“OSHA has ordered the railroad company to pay$683,508 in damages, including:
• $300,000 in punitive damages;
• $233,508 in lost wages, benefits and out-of-pocket costs; and
• $150,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering.
• Interest on back pay due will accrue daily until the employees are paid. In addition to damages, the company has been ordered to pay reasonable attorney fees.
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary Of Labor, Occupational Safety And Health Administration, stated,  “The Labor Department’s responsibility is to protect all employees, including those in the railroad industry, from retaliation for exercising these basic worker rights.  Railroad workers must be able to report work-related injuries without fear of retaliation.”
I believe the difficulty is dealing with the few employees that may not be telling the truth.  Companies can help the situation by training supervisors and managers in how to demonstrate care for  employees.  In my experience I have seen good employees who tried to do the right thing only to be grilled by management during an investigation.  Conversely, I have seen employees who continually find themselves on the OSHA 300 log during  the year. The solution begins with the attitude that nobody wants to get hurt.
Partnering with employees to help them take an active role in creating a safe workplace will help.  It is the job of management (supervisors and up) to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards.  Engagement of employees to recognize, evaluate and control those hazards is key to safety success.  In the case where an employee is injured, management should make sure the employee and family are cared for first.  Several people who handle workers compensation claims across the United States have confirmed that more times than not an employee feels bad that they got hurt and just wants to get well and back to work.
Companies that have a great safety record, high morale, and are thriving in the current economy train their leaders how to care for employees and train employees how to take responsibility for creating a safe workplace.  You might want to read one of the articles on this site about Planning, Maintaining, and Training.  In addition, you might want to schedule my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop for your leaders and employees so that everyone can begin to work together to create a workplace where Nobody Gets Hurt.
by Carl Potter, CSP

 

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