Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hanford Workers Awarded $4.8 Million in Whistleblower Safety Case

In a classic case proving the link between worker safety and the safety of the community and the enviroment, a jury has awarded 11 pipefitters cleaning up the Hanford nuclear reservation $4.8 million in damages because they were fired for complaining about safety problems at the facility.
In 1997, [Scott]Brundridge was among a group of seven pipefitters who objected to installing a valve rated for 1,975 pounds per square inch for a test of radioactive waste pipes that needed to withstand 2,235 pounds per square inch.
Because it's often hard to prove that companies retaliate against workers for safety complaints, cases like this are hard to win. And because they're hard to win, and they take so long, workers are often reluctant to risk getting fired. So it's particularly important -- not just for the workers themselves, but for the safety of the entire community -- workers and communities know about these victories.
And although the jury was generous, Brundridge, his fellow plaintiffs and their Seattle attorney Jack Sheridan said the case wasn't about money.

It was about safety, Sheridan said.

"So many (Fluor) workers knew just to keep their heads down and not say anything," said Sheridan. "That can't be the culture we allow to exist at Hanford. This verdict sends a message."
According to the Government Accountability Project
The case revolves around the initial firing of seven pipefitters, let go after refusing to install an unsafe valve in the tank farm system that holds approximately 53 million gallons of high-level nuclear and toxic waste underground. If the valve failed, it would have risked serious injury or death for those in the vicinity, potentially spread contamination, and jeopardized the structural integrity of the storage tanks.
GAP is an organization dedicated to providing assistance to whistleblowers and helped the Hanford workers file their original suit:
“This case is all about Fluor’s multi-million dollar grudge match against a crew of pipefitters who did their jobs safely and well, which is apparently not the expected behavior at Hanford,” said Tom Carpenter, Director of GAP’s Nuclear Oversight Program. "Instead of gratitude for doing the company a favor by identifying an unsafe condition, these workers were fired and blacklisted, and their careers wrecked. Fluor is sending a message to all workers at Hanford to keep silent or face financial ruin. The government is backing Fluor the whole way with generous handouts to pay the millions in legal fees that Fluor is racking up in its war on the whistleblowers.”