Nobody likes a tattletale, a gossip or a rat. You can lose the trust and respect of your co-workers pretty quickly by stepping out of line that way.
With that in mind, it’s highly unlikely that the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) revision and overhaul of its “whistleblower” program will affect much. The effort did purge some backlog and, yes, it does aspire to make the process of reporting a safety fail quicker and easier going forward.
But there’s still one elephant in the room.
Why workers don’t report safety issues. What I’ve never heard anyone say about whistleblowing is something so basic that I wonder if rulemakers miss it.
The fact is that most workers today live paycheck-to-paycheck, or very close. And if their section of the manufacturing, construction or mining project is shut down while a reported safety issue is inspected or fixed, there is no paycheck coming in. A project suspension or furlough is a pay freeze. Not just for the person who reported the safety breach, but for coworkers. Who wants to be responsible for family, friends and neighbors losing their income?
For most of American workers, work is about making sure there’s food on the table each week for the family. After food and water, there are clothes, medical bills, educational expenses, plus payments to banks a la my own well-documented pet peeve: the incomprehensible DEBT that a typical working family carries in this country (mortgage and auto), plus mandatory miscellaneous payments (insurance and alimony) that must be honored each month.
That’s a lot to risk just to report a potential safety issue.
There are also well-documented issues on the importance of respect and community in the workplace; and whistleblowers typically aren’t the most welcome folks on campus after the fact. But what do you stand to gain by reporting a safety fail? Maybe it gets fixed, maybe not. And what do you stand to lose? Everything.
A recent Food & Drug Administration law takes strides to protect whistleblowers, and now OSHA is doing same, but without a salary protection plan these measures won’t inspire workers to feel more confident about reporting safety breaches.
Good effort. But missing the mark.