Fired safety whistleblower gets $135K in back pay, damages
A plant manager who was fired after less than two weeks on the job – after reporting safety and health hazards at the facility – will receive $135,000 in back wages and compensatory damages, under a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) settlement.
Workers exposed to dust, hazmat and lacking PPE
Middletown, Pennsylvania-based York Building Products terminated the manager in 2014, shortly after he reported hazards to upper management that included excessive respirable dust; worker exposure to noxious chemicals caused by equipment overspray; lack of personal protective equipment for workers and broken tools and equipment. Many of the issues were brought to his attention by plant employees.
Request for air quality testing had this effect
The situation came to a head when a worker complained of illness, blaming excessive respirable dust as the cause. The manager then alerted the operations manager, again raising concerns about the plant's air quality and requesting that air quality testing be performed. The operations manager denied the request -- and the existence of air quality problems -- and then terminated the manager.
The manager filed two complaints with OSHA alleging safety and health hazards at the plant, and that the company fired him in retaliation for reporting these hazards.
Silica exposure 14x the PELs
An investigation of the plant by OSHA included air sampling, which determined that some employees had been exposed to silica dust at amounts up to14 times greater than permissible exposure limits.
"Extended exposure to silica dust can leave workers at risk of developing silicosis - a disabling, non-reversible and sometimes fatal lung disease. It may also cause other non-malignant respiratory diseases, such as chronic bronchitis; lung cancer and kidney disease," said Richard Mendelson, OSHA Regional Administrator in Philadelphia. "York Building Products failed to protect its employees. Furthermore, no worker should have to fear retaliation when they raise workplace safety and health concerns."
A total of 38 violations at the facility resulted in $38,880 in fines against York.
"They are paying the price"
DOL Regional Solicitor Oscar L. Hampton III predicted that the settlement agreement would deter other employers from wrongfully terminating safety whistleblowers.
"Employers should act promptly and positively when they receive safety complaints from employees. In this instance, the employer did not, and they are paying the price." said Hampton.
In addition to paying the back wages and damages, under this whistleblower settlement, York Building Products is required to provide supervisors with anti-retaliation training at the location where the terminated employee worked, and post the OSHA poster entitled, "Job Safety and Health, It's The Law."
A subsidiary of The Stewart Companies, York Building Products provides stone masonry, sand and gravel, asphalt and other products at nearly 20 locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. It is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's largest masonry providers.