My position at CRS was Cyclotron Engineer/Maintainer of the Cyclotron Physical Plant: length of employment approximately 8 years with NO DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS UNTIL THE LAST 30 DAYS. The working environment at this type of facility involves considerable risks to health and safety which must be mitigated by observation of established safety practices. As a maintenance person, I often found myself the person most at risk due to the nature of my job.
Both figuratively and literally a ‘perfect storm’ of events led to my dismissal
…an increasing frequency cyclotron break downs and safety incidents in 2006 (some potentially life -threatening) despite my continual efforts to promote safety awareness among all employees
…a recently promoted supervisor (Lynn Kaczmarek) with no background in physical plant management became my co-supervisor, which, by the way, made me the only person at CRS to have 2 supervisors (from 2 different departments, Erol Bars being my other supervisor)
These events took place against a backdrop of management resistance to observing all required safety practices which forced me to contact OSHA as a whistle-blower.
SOME OF THE SAFETY ISSUES I OBSERVED
General: No knowledge/training regarding confined space procedures as required by law
Electrical: Lockout/tag out (LOTO) not practiced, LOTO points not posted and no written LOTO procedures or training available as required by law
Chemical: Improper chemical waste disposal and no Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) available as required by law
SAFETY ISSUE SPECIFIC TO OCT 2006 STORM Radiological: Radio waste disposal problem lasting approximately 2 weeks
THE MAKING OF A WHISTLE-BLOWER, OR WHY I CONTACTED OSHA
…chronic failure of management to address my safety concerns
…no reply to request for an emergency safety meeting regarding LOTO
…October snowstorm occurred causing flooding in the underground waste water treatment facility
…I informed my co-supervisor (Lynn Kaczmarek) she should stop dumping all waste chemicals in the lab sinks because of the flooding damage causing radio and chemical waste to feed into the storm sewer: she ignored the info
…I notified SUNY Radiation Safety and a SUNY Safety engineer of the flooding problem and the ongoing chemical and nuclear disposal despite the flooding
…my co-supervisor was told by SUNY Safety to stop dumping chemicals in the lab sinks
…the co-supervisor informed me via cell phone that I was no longer working on the flooding problem; that her brother was going to work on it
…her brother was primarily a cyclotron operator with an extremely limited technical background, just hired that year, I was shocked by her decision and gasped before ending the call
At some point in this sequence of events I made the decision to contact OSHA to report CRS Cyclotron Group does not implement LOTO procedures. OSHA subsequently inspected the Cyclotron Group; CRS was cited for violations and fined.
My co-supervisor falsely accused me of laughing at her during the phone call informing me I would no longer be working on the flooding problem. As a result, I was given a day off without pay for the alleged incident.
Approximately one week after my call to OSHA, my employer was notified by OSHA that they were scheduling an inspection. That same day, I received a hastily written (my name was even misspelled) five page ‘final warning’ from the aforementioned co-supervisor. After this document was given to me, I endured daily harassment by this same co-supervisor who threatened termination if I did not complete a newly invented audit quickly enough. During this period, any requests I made for time off to deal with a painful foot injury, not to mention the extreme stress I was under, were denied.
While I was told by my co-supervisor to concentrate on the audit and disregard my other duties, I was approached by another employee and asked to provide orientation for an employee my aforementioned co-supervisor had just hired. In this private conversation in my office, I reached my breaking point and referred to my co-supervisor as a ‘stupid b*’ which remark was overheard by someone and reported. Being an honest person, I admitted the words when questioned and was fired.
A PREVIOUS CRS WHISTLE-BLOWER A YEAR EARLIER
A chemist was fired by the same supervisor (my co-supervisor) one year prior to my termination shortly after he had complained to SUNY Radiation Safety that procedures he had to follow broke FDA rules for radio chemistry research. After his complaint, he was transferred from research to production where he then worked under this supervisor. He was fired shortly thereafter (a matter of weeks).
A SUBSEQUENT CRS WHISTLE-BLOWER A YEAR LATER
Shortly after my termination, another CRS employee reported multiple safety compliance failures at CRS. The complaint was successful and resulted in the terminations of non-compliant personnel (enforced by SUNY not CRS) as opposed to termination of the whistle-blower. Is it a coincidence that this whistle-blower worked for a different supervisor?
I applied for and was denied unemployment benefits. OSHA confirmed the LOTO violations at CRS in a letter I received after I was terminated. My unemployment benefit denial hearing took place before the OSHA decision was rendered, and the denial of benefits was upheld. My appeal was denied along with the agency’s refusal to consider the OSHA letter as evidence of my whistle-blower status. Not having had the resources to hire an attorney to represent me, I fail to understand their decision.