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New Rule to Protect Ship Whistleblowers

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

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Shipboard painters, blasters and other workers will soon have new federal protection from retaliation over complaints about their working conditions, under interim final rules issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The interim rule, issued Feb. 6, establishes procedures for "whistleblower complaints" filed under the Seaman's Protection Act, which protects seamen from retaliation for engaging in protected activity, including providing information to the government about an alleged violation of maritime safety laws or regulations.

Shipbreaking - OSHA
Photos: OSHA

The Seaman's Protection Act applies to "any individual engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel owned by a citizen of the United States." The term extends to former employees and job applicants.

The rule defines a "seaman" as "any individual engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel owned by a citizen of the United States. The term includes an individual formerly performing the work described above or an applicant for such work."

Seaman's Protection

Congress amended the Seaman’s Protection Act on Oct. 15, 2010, by enacting Section 611 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010.

The changes included transferring the administration of the act's whistleblower protections from the federal courts  to OSHA. Congress also expanded the activities protected under the act and aligned the procedures and burdens of proof with those provided in Section 31105 of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

OSHA already enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety and consumer financial reform regulations.

OSHA Whistleblower Logo

OSHA already enforces whistleblower provisions for workers in the pipeline, nuclear, railroad, public transportation and other industries.

Comments Invited

OSHA is requesting public comment on the interim final rule.

The rule establishes procedures and time frames for handling retaliation complaints, including:

  • Procedures and time frames for filing complaints with OSHA, investigations;
  • Appeals of OSHA determinations to an administrative law judge for a hearing;
  • Review of ALJ decisions by the Administrative Review Board; and
  • Judicial review of the secretary of labor’s final decision.

Individuals may submit comments electronically at, the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Submissions may also be sent via facsimile or mail. See the Federal Register notice for details.

Comments are due April 8, 2013.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Health and safety; Marine Coatings; OSHA; Painting Contractor; Shipyards; Workers

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (2/20/2013, 9:31 AM)

Hm, is the seaman definition a big loophole? Commercial vessels are not typically owned by a "citizen" - they are owned by corporations, and not uncommonly offshore shell companies.

Comment from Jerry LeCompte, (2/20/2013, 9:32 AM)

Is this another lawyer's portal to the courts?

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