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OSHA Orders Reinstatement, Back Pay for Nuclear Whistle-Blower

By Roy Maurer  5/20/2013
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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled that an employee of Enercon Services working at a Kansas nuclear power plant was unlawfully terminated in retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions.

Enercon said that they would be appealing the ruling.

OSHA announced May 15, 2013, that the senior engineer (his name has been withheld) was fired from his job at Wolf Creek Generating Station for reporting unsafe conditions and for refusing to comply with a supervisor’s demand that he write an engineering report to justify the use of unsafe remedial actions.

Enercon, which provides engineering and management services to several nuclear facilities, including Wolf Creek, has been ordered to pay the whistle-blower back wages for at least 17 months; pay compensatory damages of $50,650 as well as attorney fees and costs; and reinstate the whistle-blower as a senior engineer.

Debra S. Katz, one of the whistle-blower’s attorneys, said that OSHA fulfilled its mission of protecting the employee in this case. “Whistle-blowers in the nuclear power industry play a vital role in protecting the public against nuclear disasters,” Katz said in a news release. “When they risk their careers to report nuclear safety concerns and suffer retaliation from their employers, it is critical that they have a strong agency to turn to that will enforce whistle-blower protection laws and hold the employer accountable.”

The worker had reported that Enercon allowed a trench to be dug directly over safety-related piping during the installation of a security fence, violating the requirement for minimum soil coverage over the piping. After reporting theissue to management, the complainant was instructed to write an engineering report justifying the use of concrete to fill the trenches. He refused to comply because he believed that concrete could jeopardize the pipes’ integrity. He was terminated the next day.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) investigated the whistle-blower’s allegations and found them to be meritorious.

In terms of safety, the NRC rates Wolf Creek near the bottom of the 103 nuclear reactors in the country.

Wolf Creek has had a series of near-miss episodes and has been under increased scrutiny by the NRC, according to a March 2013 report by the Union for Concerned Scientists.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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