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OSHA: Nuclear Whistleblower to be Rehired

Friday, August 30, 2019

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On Monday (Aug. 26), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to reinstate employment for a former worker who had been put on paid administrative leave for raising concerns over nuclear safety. The TVA was also reportedly under additional regulatory oversight for a “chilled” workplace environment.

OSHA specified in a press release that the employee in question, whose name has not been released, had her employment terminated once she raised concerns over technical specification surveillances and partook in an investigation by the TVA’s Office of General Counsel, which involved the quality of the work environment.

TVA Safety Program History

In May 2016, the TVA moved to address a similar chilled environment at its Watts Bar nuclear plant. (The employee involved in recent developments was not employed at the Watts Bar location.) At the time, the federal utility noted that it had updated management procedures, provided managers with additional training on how to better treat workers and otherwise better handle raised concerns.

In relation to the same issue, a nuclear watchdog group voiced its concern over why the TVA continued to have issues with employee concerns at nuclear plants. At the Watts Bar location, the “chilled” environment reportedly entailed plant operators being discouraged from reporting safety concerns. The TVA held an employee meeting in response.

Tom Brakefield / Getty Images

In May 2016, the TVA moved to address a similar chilled environment at its Watts Bar nuclear plant.

Previously, in the 1980s, the TVA had to delay commencing operations of its first reactor at Watts Bar due to failure to respond to safety concerns made prior to plant completion. Issues included improperly installed electrical cables.

In June, according to the Times Free Press, the TVA implemented a new, more focused program that would allow employees to name safety concerns. The move was made in hopes that the federal utility would be removed from a watch list—a list that it was on for having the aforementioned “chilled” work environment—before the end of this year.

Though the program was reportedly geared toward facilitating being more proactive about problems, critics said that the program, paired with staffing changes, was generating new problems in regard to stifling employees reporting safety concerns.

The implementation of the new program resulted in the termination of four managers from the Nuclear Employee Concerns Program, along with a fifth being forced to retire. In response, the TVA said that the displaced people had been offered other jobs.

Recent Developments

According to OSHA, the employee involved in the most recent developments with the TVA had been involved in activities protected under Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act.

TVA President Jeff Lyash noted earlier this month that he hopes to propel a better work culture at the federal utility, citing the desire to make “sure we have a safety-first culture.” TVA Nuclear Chief Tim Rausch went on to specify that complaints can be made through a number of channels, including the corrective action program and making complaints to the independent Inspector General.

Moving forward, the agency has ordered the TVA to pay the employee $123,460 in back wages and interest, along with $33,835 in compensatory damages. The TVA is also to pay the employee’s attorney’s fees, as well as clear the relevant file and refrain from retaliating against the employee. A notice of whistleblower protections must also be posted.

“This order underscores the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to protect workers who exercise their right to raise safety concerns without the fear of retaliation,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer.


Tagged categories: Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; OSHA; Safety

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