NEW YORK – A Long Island-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, off Port Aransas aboard the Buster Bouchard/B. No. 255.
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.
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. “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, and 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.
“This agreement underscores the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to pursuing necessary and effective legal remedies to protect and preserve a worker’s right to a safe and healthful work environment,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York. “Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc.’s disregard for worker safety is unacceptable.”
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.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of SPA and 24 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Labor does not release the names of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.