An OSHA and public relations nightmare that didn’t have to be

By: October 27th, 2008 Email This Post Print This Post

How would you like to be responsible for OSHA compliance at a healthcare facility where the local newspaper reports that one of your managers allegedly disciplined a staff member by making her rummage through biohazardous waste? And, on top of that, the employee who filed the complaint with OSHA is now suing you for wrongful termination under the Whistleblower Act.

Any takers? Read more before accepting the position.

Gregory Stewart, a former employee of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa Bay, Florida, is suing the healthcare facility for wrongful termination after he reported to OSHA an incident involving biohazardous waste, according to The Tampa Bay Tribune.

Although Stewart never witnessed the incident, after talking with the employee involved he informed OSHA that a manager at the Center forced a co-worker to search through a bag of biologically-hazardous waste for his keys to “teach her a lesson,” even though his keys were in his pocket, reported the Tribune.

Now, under the whistleblower law, which protects employees from unfavorable personnel action after filing a complaint to OSHA, Stewart is suing the center for firing him.

Whether the incident with the manager is true or not, and whether the whistleblower suit is upheld or not, it’s a lose-lose situation for the Cancer Center.

If it’s true that the manager exposed the worker to biohazardous trash, then there is some serious OSHA training and personnel management work needed at Moffitt, something that might have been handled internally.

But once an OSHA complaint is made, the last thing you want to do is to single out the complaining employee for discipline or give the worker any recourse to connect adverse action with the OSHA complaint.

According to OSHA, adverse action is a material change in the terms or conditions of employment, and can include:

  • Firing or laying off
  • Blacklisting
  • Demoting
  • Denying overtime or promotion
  • Disciplining
  • Denial of benefits
  • Failure to hire or rehire
  • Intimidation
  • Reassignment affecting prospects for promotion
  • Reducing pay or hours

A good OSHA compliance program will always encourage direct communication in the reporting of hazards and safety violations internally as a first measure. But once an OSHA complaint is made, sometimes it is in your best interest not to know who filed it.

So, who is at fault here? What would you have done to mitigate this lose-lose situation? Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Let us know by posting a comment below.


Cancer Center manager. Shame on him for not knowing the danger he was subjecting the employee to!

The employee had the right to refuse being put in a life threatening situation and should have notified the safety officer. The manager KNEW the risks and should be disciplined.

We had a visitor who layed their cell phone on top of a sharps container and it fell into the sharps container. Sorry, the cell phone stayed put and went away with the infectious waste.

By David LaHoda on November 1st, 2008 at 10:29 am

The incident about the cell phone in the sharps container is good. I’m interested in doing an article on bloodborne pathogen hazards as it relates to visitors in healthcare facilities. If anyone else has situations like this post here or contact me at

By Linda foster on October 17th, 2015 at 12:18 pm

This is a question concerning mobile phlebotomy. If the phlebotomist draws a persons blood in that persons home (for life insurance) and they are from a culture that expect people to remove their shoes when entering their home ,should the phlebotomist remove his or her shoes when they are drawing their blood? Isnt OSHA regulations to wear shoes that completely cover the feet.



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