MIDDLETOWN, PA – A Pennsylvania masonry company terminated a plant manager — less than two weeks after it hired him — after the manager repeatedly reported air quality and other safety and health hazards to upper management at the company's Middletown plant in 2014.
York Building Products has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor whereby the company will pay a total of $135,000 in back wages and compensatory damages to the terminated employee. The settlement resolves a whistleblower investigation conducted by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company is one of the nation's largest producers of masonry units.
The employee began work as a plant manager on or around Oct. 1, 2014. Shortly after, he identified several safety and health problems at the plant; among them were excessive respirable dust, worker exposure to noxious chemicals caused by equipment overspray, lack of personal protective equipment for workers, and broken tools and equipment. The manager also received multiple complaints from plant employees about safety and health conditions there. After receiving these complaints, he brought safety concerns to the attention of the plant operations manager on a daily basis.
During the week of Oct. 7, a plant worker complained of illness, blaming excessive respirable dust as the cause. The manager then alerted the operations manager, again raising concerns about the plant's air quality and requesting that air quality testing be performed. The operations manager denied the request, and the existence of air quality problems, and then terminated the manager.
"Employers should act promptly and positively when they receive safety complaints from employees. In this instance, the employer did not, and they are paying the price." said Oscar L. Hampton III, Regional Solicitor in Philadelphia. "This settlement agreement makes the complainant whole for his wrongful termination and has a ripple effect that will act as a deterrent for other employers."
On Oct. 14, the terminated manager filed two complaints with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One complaint alleged safety and health hazards at the plant, and the other complaint alleged the company fired him in retaliation for reporting these hazards. On Oct. 20, OSHA began its safety and health investigation of the plant. Inspectors identified 38 violations, resulting in $38,880 in fines. Air samplings collected in the investigation showed that certain plant employees had been exposed to silica dust at amounts up to 14 times greater than permissible exposure limits.
"Extended exposure to silica dust can leave workers at risk of developing silicosis – a disabling, non-reversible and sometimes fatal lung disease. It may also cause other non-malignant respiratory diseases, such as chronic bronchitis; lung cancer and kidney disease," said Richard Mendelson, OSHA Regional Administrator in Philadelphia. "York Building Products failed to protect its employees. Furthermore, no worker should have to fear retaliation when they raise workplace safety and health concerns."
The whistleblower investigation found the company violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act when it terminated the former plant manager. In addition to paying the back wages and damages, under this whistleblower settlement, York Building Products is required to provide supervisors with anti-retaliation training at the location where the terminated employee worked, and post the OSHA poster entitled, "Job Safety and Health, It's The Law".
A subsidiary of The Stewart Companies, York Building Products provides stone masonry, sand and gravel, asphalt and other products at nearly 20 locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. It is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's largest masonry providers.
The Department's Office of the Regional Solicitor in Philadelphia handled the case.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of 22 statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns about health and safety hazards in the workplace to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conducted may file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblower.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by settling and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.