State Safety Public Employee Coalition

When the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed in 1970, the law made it an option for states to provide OSHA protections to their public employees.  Massachusetts did not exercise that option. 

For years, Massachusetts safety advocates and public sector unions had urged past Governors and the legislature to extend safety protections to public employees.

Untangling the web of public sector coverage

Municipal and public authority workers:  Though few are aware of it, Massachusetts does have an occupational health and safety law: Chapter 149 Section 6 gives the state the authority to “investigate places of employment” and determine what “requirements are necessary for the prevention of industrial or occupational diseases.”  Because OSHA already covers the private sector they are not covered by this; and the law exempts state employees.  However, municipalities and public authorities are covered. 

The state’s Department of Labor Standards issued a memo (click here) years ago indicating: “In the absence of specific standards, it is the policy of our office that public sector employees follow the OSHA Standards as a minimum.  Compliance with the OSHA Standards will in most cases ensure compliance with the intent of Chapter 149 section 6.”   Recently DLS also determined that they have the authority to cite and fine employers covered under this law if they fail to comply. 

State Employees:  As mentioned above, state employees are exempt from the above law.  However, recognizing the critical importance of ensuring a safe, healthy environment for state employees, on April 28, 2009, Workers Memorial Day, Governor Patrick issued Executive Order 511, establishing health and safety committees and systems.   This executive order was an important first step in evaluating and improving the status of worker protections for state employees (Click here for Executive Order Fact Sheet).

Institutionalizing protections for all public employees

MassCOSH and its labor allies are working to end the current fragmented system of coverage for public employees.  This legislative session, beginning in January, 2013, we will be seeking the passage of legislation that applies health and safety national standards to all public employees.

To become involved in this important effort, contact Marcy Goldstein-Gelb at 617-825-7233 x15 or