A Long Island, New York-based petroleum barge company and three former and current management officials have paid $375,000 in restitution to the brother of one of two seamen killed in a barge explosion off the coast of Texas.
The seaman alleged the company fired him for cooperating with investigators and reporting safety concerns to the U.S. Coast Guard. The explosion occurred on Oct. 20, 2017.
In addition to the payment, Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. and the individual respondents agreed to take other remedial actions in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to resolve violations of the whistleblower protection provisions of the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA).
Investigators for OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs found that the employers’ actions constituted retaliation against the seaman for protected activity under the SPA and would dissuade a seaman from reporting safety issues. Reporting alleged violations of maritime safety laws and regulations, cooperating with safety investigations and furnishing information to the Coast Guard about facts related to any marine casualty resulting in death are protected activities under the SPA.
“Employers and vessel owners must know and respect that, under the Seaman’s Protection Act, seamen have the right to report safety concerns and cooperate with the U.S. Coast Guard and other safety investigators,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York in a U.S. Department of Labor press release. “Failure to recognize these rights can instill a culture of intimidation that could lead to disastrous or deadly consequences for workers.”
Under the agreement, the company must remove any reference to the seaman’s termination and exercising of his rights under the SPA from their files, as well as provide a neutral reference if contacted by any prospective employer. The employer must train its managers and employees about seamen’s SPA rights and post a Notice to Seamen about their rights under the SPA.
OSHA’s New York regional Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs conducted the investigation. Senior Trial Attorney Allison L. Bowles of the department’s New York regional Office of the Solicitor negotiated the settlement.
Source: The U.S. Department of Labor
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