The arrogance of rail management never ceases to amaze. The latest example comes from the BNSF, whose General Counsel had the gall to tell OSHA’s Office of Whistleblower Protection that it “must disclose the names of the employee witnesses” OSHA intends to interview so the BNSF can “offer its representation” to those workers and be present during the interviews. In other words, the Railroad wanted their lawyers to be present in order to intimidate the workers being interviewed.

In a stinging rebuke, the Head of OSHA issued a letter stating that BNSF’s request was “wholly inappropriate” and that OSHA would not comply with it. Dr. David Michaels pointed out that all non-management witness interviews are confidential and conducted in private, and that it would be a conflict of interest for the Railroad’s attorney “to represent both the corporation and non-managerial employees in a whistleblower case.”

Dr. Michaels then underscored the protection provided to all railroad employees who participate in an OHSA FRSA investigation:

We also wish to remind you that it is a violation of the employee protections of FRSA to discharge, demote, suspend, reprimand, or in any other way retaliate against an employee who provides information to OSHA or otherwise assists OSHA in an investigation of a FRSA whistleblower complaint. OSHA takes allegations of such retaliation extremely seriously and will not tolerate retaliation against witnesses who cooperate in FRSA whistleblower investigations.

The message could not be clearer. All co-workers who talk to an OSHA investigator or cooperate in any way with an OSHA FRSA investigation gain a suit of armor against retaliation. And any rail manager foolish enough to retaliate against a worker who has cooperated with OSHA had better be prepared to pay the maximum amount of punitive damages. For the full text of Dr. Michaels’ letter. For more on the FRSA, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.