The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an interim final rule and request for comments on regulations implementing the whistleblower protection provisions set forth in the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA) as amended by Section 611 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. Section 611 gave OSHA the authority to administer the SPA’s whistleblower protections. OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions in 22 statutes, including the SPA. The whistleblower provisions in the SPA protect a seaman from retaliation because the seaman has “engaged in protected activity pertaining to compliance with maritime safety laws and accompanying regulations.”

The interim rule establishes procedures and timeframes for processing whistleblower complaints under the SPA, investigating such complaints, and appealing OSHA determinations to an administrative law judge for a hearing de novo and ultimately, if needed, to federal court. The rule also adopts a broad definition of “seaman” to mean “any individual engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel owned by a citizen of the United States. The term includes an individual formerly performing the work described above or an applicant for such work.” With respect to the topics subject to protection, the rule interprets “maritime safety law or regulation” to include “all regulations regarding health or safety that apply to any person or equipment on a vessel under the circumstances at issue.”

The rule, to the extent possible, mirrors the rules governing the whistleblower provisions in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act as well as other whistleblower statutes OSHA enforces.

The agency is seeking comments on, among other topics, the appropriateness of OSHA’s broadened definition of “seaman” for the purposes of this rule. Comments must be received within 60 days of this rule’s publication in the Federal Register, which is slated for February 6, 2013. Comments may be submitted electronically to the federal eRulemaking Portal, or via fax if not more than 10 pages in length to: (202) 693-1648. Alternatively, comments may be sent by mail or hand delivery to: the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2011-0841, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210.