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New Protections for Whistleblowers in the Distribution Center

If a worker voices safety concerns, take it seriously or risk running afoul of whistleblower rules.

(Boonton, NJ, February 21, 2013) — Here's a pop quiz: Say a forklift operator complains about faulty brakes on his vehicle and refuses to work until they're repaired. You:

  1. Send him home without pay and warn that you'll fire him if he keeps whining.
  2. Document his concerns and inspect the forklift.

If you answered (A), you're in danger of running afoul of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) stepped up focus on protecting workplace whistleblowers, says Richard Alaniz, an employment attorney in Houston.

"Employers should brace themselves for the potential of a substantial increase in the number of claims and investigations," he says in the February issue of Distribution Center Management.

Whistleblower investigations already are on the rise, with OSHA cases jumping by 34 percent from 2009 to 2012, Alaniz says.

So far, the OSHA whistleblower actions in the supply chain industry have focused on trucking companies and railroad lines. But it's only logical that OSHA will turn its focus to distribution centers, Alaniz says.

Some 100 warehouse employees are killed each year in forklift accidents, and OSHA says lift-truck safety is one of the top areas for citations.

In the February issue of industry newsletter Distribution Center Management, Alaniz offers advice for staying on the right side of OSHA's whistleblower efforts.

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For more than 40 years, Distribution Group publications have helped distribution center and warehouse managers increase productivity, cut costs, and meet increasing customer demands. Distribution Group publishes Distribution Center Management newsletter, books and reports, and a free e-newsletter.

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