Workers suspended without pay for reporting workplace injuries has prompted a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Labor. The department filed the lawsuit against The Ohio Bell Telephone Company, which operates as AT&T, on behalf of 13 employees who received unpaid suspensions after reporting work place injuries from 2011 to 2013.
Verizon has been found guilty of multiple violations of the OSHA Telecommunications Standard and fined $147,000 for repeat violations of not ensuring that linemen used insulating rubber gloves while placing strand on joint use poles and not making certain that the strand is temporarily grounded while being placed. Verizon also faces one serious violation for not providing adequate training.
The company now must provide enhanced electrical safety training and other safeguards to its New York field technicians who install suspension strand on utility poles that carry power lines. This landmark stipulated settlement agreement covers Verizon New York and affects all line personnel and line garages in the state.
“It is not the amount of the fines, which are limited by law, which is ultimately important. No amount of money can ever make up for the loss of a person’s life. What is important is that Verizon is being held accountable for their negligence and they must now take specific actions to provide for a safer work environment,” CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton told CWA Locals. “While it is sad and unconscionable that this is what it took for the company to do what they should have been doing all along, this is a positive and much needed step toward preventing another death of this kind in the future.”
Verizon poured resources into fighting all of their OSHA citations, but could not make a case. Because of its two repeat violations – based on the death of Jarrod Lyon, a lineman from CWA Local 1126, in 2002 – Verizon is now on the OSHA Severe Violator list and will be subject to additional oversight.
“While no settlement can bring this worker back to his family, co-workers and friends, this agreement can help prevent similar and needless tragedies in the future,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York. “It commits Verizon New York to provide enhanced and specific training for its field technicians on the hazards involved with installing suspension strand on utility poles carrying power lines. Such training will also reinforce management’s commitment to safe practices.”
“Reporting a work injury or illness is a core employee right and retaliating against a worker for reporting an injury or illness is illegal discrimination.”
In March, 2012, OSHA issued a memorandum “Employer Safety Incentive and Disincentive Policies and Practices.” This memorandum outlines OSHA’s position regarding employer policies and practices that discourage workers from reporting job injuries and illnesses. It explains workers’ legal protections for reporting injuries and illnesses under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, other whistleblower programs (such as the Federal Railway Safety Act) and under OSHA’s Recordkeeping Rule (29 CFR 1904).
Which Employer Polices and Practices Could Be Illegal?
The memorandum gives examples of four types of employer policies and practices that might violate OSHA’s Section 11(c) and other whistleblower protections and could also result in violations of OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements:
- Injury Discipline:
Where employers have a policy or practice of disciplining workers who report injuries or illnesses, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the injury. This would violate Section 11(c) and might also violate an employer’s obligation to establish a way for employees to report injuries as required by OSHA’s record-keeping rule.
- Discipline for “Untimely” Reporting of Injuries or for Not Reporting Injuries in the Way Required by the Employer:
Where employers have rules requiring that all injuries be reported immediately, and workers are disciplined even in cases where they do not immediately realize that an injury or illness has occurred or that an injury or illness was serious enough to be reported; or where the employer’s reporting requirements are unreasonable, unduly burdensome or enforced with unjustifiably harsh penalties.
- Discipline for Violating a Safety Rule:
When employers use violating a safety rule as an excuse for disciplining workers who report job injuries or illnesses; or when employers have vague rules like a requirement that employees “maintain situational awareness” or “work carefully” and then only discipline workers for violating those rules when they report injuries or illnesses. Enforcing such rules more harshly against injured/ill employees than non-injured/ill employees may suggest that the rule is a pretext for discrimination against an injured/ill employee in violation of Section 11(c).
- Safety Incentive Programs:
Where employees are disqualified from rewards and prizes because injuries and illnesses are reported. Incentive programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries/illnesses can be a violation of Section 11(c).
In addition, the Agency’s memorandum states, “OSHA has also observed that the potential for unlawful discrimination under all of these policies may increase when management or supervisory bonuses are linked to lower reported injury rates.” OSHA highlights in the memorandum:
“If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk. Employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries, and injured employees may not receive the proper medical attention, or the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled. Ensuring that employees can report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation is, therefore, crucial to protecting workers’ health and safety.”
If you have been injured on the job, let your steward know right away. If a manager, tells you that reporting it could lead to discipline, this is illegal! Let us know right away!
Here in West Michigan, the winter weather can take many twists and turns on its way to spring. In just days, the weather can go from 50 degrees to 5 degrees and this creates extra hazards for outside craft folks. One of the most dangerous is icicles. The freeze and thaw cycle during weather-swings can cause these to both grow rapidly and weaken to the point where any disturbance, such as opening a network interface device (NID) on the side of a house can cause it to come crashing down – on you!
Verizon is among 332 of the nation’s employers that landed last week on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program list. Created in 2010 to get tough on employers, the list calls out companies with willful, repeated and egregious workplace violations.
Verizon earned this ghastly distinction after federal officials discovered “repeat and serious” violations connected to the tragic death of Verizon technician Douglas Lalima, a member of CWA Local 1109. OSHA cited the company for 10 violations totaling $14,700 — the maximum penalty under the law.
Lalima, a 37-year-old father of four, was in a cherry picker installing steel suspension strands in Brooklyn last September when he was electrocuted and burst into flames. The inspection found that Verizon failed to provide Lalima and his fellow technicians with life-saving equipment, such as insulated gloves. The steel suspension strands had not been grounded during installation, employees were not wearing hard hats, and protective equipment had not been inspected. The technicians — including Lalima, a 15-year veteran of the company — had not been adequately trained in safety procedures. Furthermore, Verizon neglected to list Lalima’s death as a fatality in its mandatory records.