An Act to Further Define Standards Of Employee Safety (Hb1756, Sb 2190)

October 15, 2016

Legislative Fact Sheet
An Act to further define Standards of Employee Safety (S2190)

Lead sponsors: Rep. James O’Day and Senator Marc Pacheco

Background:  Public employees repair our roads, remove our trash and recyclables, care for our disabled and provide needed services for residents of the Commonwealth.  They are public works employees working at great heights and in deep holes.  They are health care providers who lift 10,000 pounds each day as they care for patients. And they are maintenance workers who work with heavy machinery. 

Each week, an average of 28 municipal workers suffer injuries serious enough to be out of work for five or more days, according to a conservative estimate from the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA).   Yet, except for the executive branch, state law does not explicitly specify OSHA as the baseline safety standard for all public employees.
Why aren't Massachusetts public sector workers covered by OSHA, other than executive branch employees?  The Federal OSH Act, passed in 1970, made it an option to provide OSHA protections to public employees.  A majority of states (26) have laws that provide at least OSHA level protections for public employees before an incident occurs: Alaska, Arizona, California,  Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.   But not Massachusetts.

Instead, Massachusetts General Law Chapter 149 Section 6 gives the state Department of Labor Standards (DLS) the authority to respond to complaints, and investigate injuries and deaths.  DLS uses this authority to encourage and inform public agencies that they expect them to comply with OSHA regulations as a minimum standard of employee protection.  However, current state law does not directly cite OSHA regulations as the minimum safety standard for city, town, higher education and authority workers. 
OSHA standards prevent injuries and save money:  Public agencies spend millions of dollars in workers compensation and lost time costs.  According to Liberty Mutual’s Research Institute for Safety, employers save $4 to $6 for every dollar spent on a health and safety program.  Furthermore, the federal government has a grant program that matches state dollars one to one to fund the technical assistance and enforcement of public employee safety programs.
What the bill does:  The bill amends the section of the law that gives the state the authority to investigate and establish regulations to protect worker health and safety, and establishes federal OSHA as the baseline.  This way, all employees have consistent safety protections – not just after a death or serious injury.
The bill also creates a municipal occupational health and safety hazard subcommittee to evaluate injury and illness data, recommend training and implementation of safety and health measures, and determine whether additional measures are necessary to protect the safety and health of employees.