Washington, DC — The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s top expert and foremost critic on workplace injury and illness records was pushed out of his job illegally, according to legal pleadings filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For nearly 25 years, Robert Whitmore was the top OSHA official overseeing OSHA recordkeeping requirements before he was put on paid administrative leave for more than two years, and then finally terminated this summer.
During the Bush years, Whitmore became increasingly vocal in criticizing the steady decline in the accuracy of mandated industry reports of on-the-job accidents and illnesses, as well as his agency’s growing aversion toward enforcing recordkeeping requirements. In congressional testimony last year, Whitmore stated that agency claims of safer and healthier workplaces could no longer be supported:
“I contend that the current OSHA Injury and Illness information is inaccurate, due in part to wide scale underreporting by employers and OSHA’s willingness to accept these falsified numbers. There are many reasons why OSHA would accept these numbers, but one important institutional factor has dramatically affected the Agency since 1992, regardless of the political party in power: steady annual declines in the number of workplace injuries and illnesses make it appear that OSHA is fulfilling its mission.”
OSHA management placed him on paid administrative leave back in July 2007 and left him there until the Washington Post ran a story about his extraordinary bureaucratic exile on February 19, 2009. Shortly after that piece ran, OSHA moved to fire Whitmore for “disruptive, intimidating and inappropriate behavior” citing incidents that had occurred more than two years earlier. Prior to the Bush administration, Whitmore had won commendations during his 37-year Labor Department career. PEER seeks to have Whitmore restored to his previous position through a motion filed today with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, the tribunal which hears whistleblower complaints.
“Bob Whitmore is the victim of management malpractice of the highest order,” stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson who filed the “stay” motion to return Whitmore to his job. “The only thing Bob Whitmore is guilty of is unwillingness to tolerate official incompetence and malfeasance.”
Ironically, the Obama administration is now moving to adopt some of the reforms that Whitmore had long urged. On September 30, 2009, OSHA initiated an “Illness and Injury Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program” that beefs up enforcement of industry reporting rules. It is designed to “test OSHA’s ability to effectively target establishments to identify under-recording of occupational injuries and illnesses”.
“By all rights, Bob Whitmore should be allowed to end his career implementing the measures he fought to bring about,” Erickson added. “If the Obama administration expects to meaningfully change OSHA, it is going to need the help of inside reformers like Bob Whitmore.”