OSHA – A Pacific Northwest trucking company was ordered to pay fines for violating the Surface Transportation Safety Act and retaliating against an employee who refused to drive due to illness and fatigue.
The company suspended without pay a commercial truck operator of 25 years after he informed management that he did not feel well enough to drive, causing him to miss the delivery deadline. After his suspension, the worker filed a whistleblower complaint to OSHA, claiming a violation of the safe operating rules under the Surface Transportation Safety Act.
The complaint triggered an investigation into the company, which ultimately found the company’s attendance policy encouraging drivers to operate trucks regardless of health status or fatigue. A quick survey of driving records found negative notes related to possible discipline or termination for all drivers who were absent due to illness or exhaustion. As a result of the OSHA lead investigation, the trucking company was ordered to pay $20,000 in punitive damages and $356 to the driver for his suspension. The company also had to remove all negative notes from any driver’s personnel file that were related to calling out sick or fatigued.
“Forcing ill or tired drivers behind the wheel puts their live and the lives of others at risk” – Ken Atha, OSHA regional administrator in Seattle
Excessive driving hours greatly increase the chances of an incident. Lack of sleep and losing focus on the road account for a significant portion of trucking incidents every year. Employees should be comfortable and even encouraged to discuss these issues with their employers. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct can file a complaint through OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. For detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, visit www.whistleblowers.gov.