Posts Tagged ‘federal’

Feds to pay OSHA whistleblower $820,000 settlement

By Ames Alexander
aalexander@charlotteobserver.com

Posted: Wednesday, Jun. 05, 2013
  • RAFAEL SUANES – MCT
    Bob Whitmore, former chief of OSHA’s recordkeeping division, testifying at a 2008 Congressional hearing about companies that fail to report workplace injuries. He’s holding a photo that appeared in the Observer’s “Cruelest Cuts” series, which showed how one N.C. poultry company masked the extent of workplace injuries.

The U.S. Department of Labor will pay former OSHA official Bob Whitmore $820,000 – one of the largest federal whistle-blower settlements ever approved – under a deal that will end his four-year fight against the government.

The settlement is a major victory for Whitmore, who says he was fired because he publicly criticized his agency for allowing companies to underreport workplace injuries.

Whitmore, formerly the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s top official for record keeping, was fired in 2009 after speaking to Observer reporters who were investigating dangerous conditions and workplace injuries in the poultry industry.

“I think Bob paid a very big price for people injured in the workplace,” said Robert Seldon, a Washington lawyer who represented Whitmore. “The government paid a bigger price with a landmark settlement.

“There are people who are not going to get killed or injured in the workplace because of Bob Whitmore.”

Whitmore, who worked for the Labor Department for 37 years, filed a complaint against the agency under the Whistleblower Protection Act, a 1989 law designed to protect federal employees who report misconduct by their agencies.

Under the settlement, approved Wednesday by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Whitmore agreed not to seek employment with the Labor Department for 15 years.

“I regret that I’m not going to get the opportunity to finish what I set out to do,” said Whitmore, who turns 66 on Thursday. “That will bug me.”

But Whitmore said he hopes his settlement will encourage other prospective whistle-blowers. “Hopefully it will give people who are contemplating this (the) courage to go forward and do the right thing,” he said.

Hidden injuries

Whitmore contended that OSHA wanted to silence his criticism and stop his push for a more aggressive approach with employers who underreport workplace injuries.

In years past, OSHA’s leaders pointed to declining injury rates as proof of the agency’s success.

But in interviews with the Observer – and in a later congressional hearing – Whitmore alleged that OSHA allowed employers to underreport workplace injuries by failing to punish companies that cheat.

His comments were included in a 2008 Observer series, which showed the human cost of bringing chicken and turkey to America’s dinner tables and documented how one North Carolina poultry company hid workplace injuries.

OSHA said it dismissed Whitmore because he made colleagues feel unsafe at work.

In 2007, he confronted a supervisor who he said spit on him. When the supervisor attempted to close the door, Whitmore stuck his foot in and said that if he ever spit on him again he would “knock him into the basement.”

A Labor Department spokesman declined comment Wednesday, saying the agency does not publicly discuss personnel issues.

A win for whistle-blowers

The settlement follows a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which Judge Jimmie Reyna called Whitmore a “bona fide whistle-blower.” That ruling vacated an earlier decision by the MSPB, which had upheld Whitmore’s dismissal. Reyna argued that the board had ignored or overlooked evidence to support Whitmore’s contention that he was fired out of retaliation.

The MSPB hears complaints from federal employees who feel they have been unfairly treated or fired. In the large majority of complaints, the board has ruled in favor of the federal agencies.

The appeals court’s decision on the Whitmore case “significantly helped” federal employees who claim they faced retaliation for whistle-blowing, said Carolyn Lerner, who heads the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency responsible for protecting government workers who expose wrongdoing.

“It made clear that the government faces a steep legal burden when trying to defend such retaliatory actions and it also ensured the whistleblowers have a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s defense,” Lerner said Wednesday.

Some settlements are confidential, so it’s not always clear what the federal government agrees to pay out in such cases. But Seldon, the attorney for Whitmore, said the largest previously disclosed settlement appears to be the $755,000 that the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to pay to Gary Aguirre, an SEC lawyer who was fired in 2005.

The size of the Whitmore settlement will likely get the attention of many federal officials, said Paula Dinerstein, a lawyer who has represented Whitmore.

“It sends a message to employers: Retaliate against whistle-blowers at your peril,” said Dinerstein, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit that advocates for government workers.

Alexander: 704-358-5060

From the News and Observer: What’s in a cigarette? FDA to study ingredients

Before I even repost this…the title alone already made my face go into the “No Shit Sherlock” look. Wanna know what’s in a cig read the ingredients…do your own research. By now you should all know that cigs are full of all sorts of things. You wanna smoke…go ahead that’s your choice. Okay now to the article:

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM – AP Tobacco Writer

RICHMOND, Va. — The Food and Drug Administration is working to lift the smokescreen clouding the ingredients used in cigarettes and other tobacco products.

In June, tobacco companies must tell the FDA their formulas for the first time, just as drugmakers have for decades. Manufacturers also will have to turn over any studies they’ve done on the effects of the ingredients.

It’s an early step for an agency just starting to flex muscles granted by a new law that took effect last June that gives it broad power to regulate tobacco far beyond the warnings now on packs, short of banning it outright.

Companies have long acknowledged using cocoa, coffee, menthol and other additives to make tobacco taste better. The new information will help the FDA determine which ingredients might also make tobacco more harmful or addictive. It will also use the data to develop standards for tobacco products and could ban some ingredients or combinations.

“Tobacco products today are really the only human-consumed product that we don’t know what’s in them,” Lawrence R. Deyton, the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s new Center for Tobacco Products and a physician, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

While the FDA must keep much of the data confidential under trade-secret laws, it will publish a list of harmful and potentially harmful ingredients by June 2011. Under the law, it must be listed by quantity in each brand.

Some tobacco companies have voluntarily listed product ingredients online in recent years but never with the specificity they must give the FDA, said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

For example, Altria Group Inc., based in Richmond and the parent company of the nation’s largest tobacco maker, Philip Morris USA, has posted general ingredients on its Web site since at least 1999.

Cigarette makers say their products include contain tobacco, water, sugar and flavorings, along with chemicals like diammonium phosphate, a chemical used to improve burn rate and taste, and ammonium hydroxide, used to improve the taste.

Scientific studies suggest those chemicals also could make the body more easily absorb nicotine, the active and addictive component of tobacco.

“Until now, the tobacco companies were free to manipulate their product in ways to maximize sales, no matter the impact on the number of people who died or became addicted,” Myers said. “The manner of disclosure previously made it impossible for the government to make any meaningful assessments.”

About 46 million people, or 20.6 percent of U.S. adult smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, down from about 24 percent 10 years ago. It also estimates that about 443,000 people in the U.S. die each year from diseases linked to smoking.

Tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma continue to cut into the number of cigarettes sold, which were estimated to be down about 12.6 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period last year.

Cigarettes and their smoke contain more than 4,000 chemicals; among them are more than 60 known carcinogens, according to the American Cancer Society. But scientists say they can’t yet tell all they’ll learn from the new data because so little is known about how the chemicals combine to affect people.

“The reality is that we have known so little over time that it’s difficult to know with much accuracy what getting a good look is going to tell us about what we could do in the future,” said Dr. David Burns of the University of California-San Diego, scientific editor of several surgeon general reports on tobacco.

The real test is whether the FDA acts on the information it receives, said David Sweanor, a Canadian law professor and tobacco expert. Canadian authorities are collecting similar data, but they haven’t taken much action based on it, which is critical, he said. The European Union also has similar submission requirements.

Myers warned that a list of ingredients or an unexplained product label is “just as likely to mislead as it is to inform” if consumers don’t know about the relative effects of ingredients.

Altria has supported what it has called “tough but fair regulation.”

But its chief rivals – No. 2 Reynolds American Inc., parent company of R.J. Reynolds, and No. 3 Lorillard, both based in North Carolina – opposed the law. They said it would lock in Altria’s share of the market because its size gives it more resources to comply with regulations and future limits on marketing under the law. Altria’s brands include Marlboro, which held a 41.9 percent share of the U.S. cigarette market in the third quarter, according to Information Resources Inc.

Comment:

The most abused substances are alcohol, sugar and nicotine. All are poisons that people choose, no one twists their arms to consume.

So when is the FDA gonna’ tackle the really hard issue of food safety?! Toxic water has trickled down (sorry, but couldn’t help the bad pun) to our country’s food stocks, whether it be our crops being grown in sludge (bio-solids for the politically correct out there) or crops being nourished w/ reuse water from municipal sewer plants.

No one chooses to eat contaminated food, drink toxic water, or breathe in steam in their bath/shower w/ toxic water being used.

Oh yeah…history repeats itself, right? The tobacco industry had bought-n-paid for scientific opinions. Just like DENR and DWQ on state level all the way up to Federal level.

Just ask our military serving at Camp Lejeune and our other eastern military bases. Govnt wants to ban tobacco on our bases yet don’t give a hoot about soldiers getting sick and dying from toxic water.

Dale Swiggett