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Federal agency pulls recommendations for whistleblower protectio - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Federal agency pulls recommendations for whistleblower protection for offshore workers

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A federal agency that investigated the Deepwater Horizon disaster has withdrawn its recommendation to extend whistleblower protections to offshore workers, saying it agrees with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s reasons for refusing to enact the protections.

In its objections to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s recommendations, BSEE argued it doesn’t have authority to enact the protections, which the agency says are similar to regulations that already exist.

“The information, discussions, and deliberation all highlighted that there is unanimous agreement within the Board and among the staff that worker participation, effective ‘whistleblower’ protections, and stop work authority are vital in any safety management regime,” CSB wrote in a Tuesday report explaining the withdrawal. “However, after extensive analysis and deliberation, in addition to the other issues raised above, the Board determined that this recommendation was most likely addressed to the wrong recipient.”

'A workplace free from fear'

The proposed regulations would have facilitated “a workplace free from fear that encourages discussion and resolution of safety issues and concerns,” according to the recommendation’s text.

Specifically, it would have required worker-elected safety representatives and committees at each staffed offshore facility, with the elected worker granted authority to issue enforceable stop-work orders if an operation or task is perceived as unsafe. It would have also required documentation of major hazards and meetings between workforce representatives, management and BSEE.

BSEE argued — and the CSB concurred — that the U.S. Coast Guard is the safety authority for offshore oil and gas operations and that the U.S. Department of Labor is usually the lead agency for protecting employees from retaliatory employer actions.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which grants BSEE its authority through the Department of Interior, also has no provisions to protect whistleblowers, both agencies concluded.

The agencies also agreed that BSEE’s existing regulations already provide offshore personnel stop-work authority without fear of reprisal and require employee-management consultation through their “safety and environmental management system” — the latter of which became a requirement after the Macondo well blowout.

Another rec would have addressed executives

CSB withdrew another one of the BSEE recommendations on Tuesday. It would have required that BSEE hold corporate boards of directors and executives responsible for major accident prevention, including for communicating those risks to stakeholders.

BSEE argued the recommendation would have been better directed to other agencies, including industry trade groups.

Eleven people died, another 17 were seriously injured in the blowout, which also caused “massive marine and coastal damage from approximately 4 million barrels of released hydrocarbons” after the well blowout and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the report states.

CSB produced a 4-volume investigative report on the April 20, 2010, disaster, when hydrocarbons found an ignition source during well-abandonment activities, the agency states. In April 2016, the agency issued 16 follow-up recommendations, 11 of which were to BSEE.

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