An Act to further define Standards of Employee Safety Fact Scheet

January 29, 2015

An Act to further define Standards of Employee Safety (HD 2433;
SD 235)

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 data from the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA).  The DIA notes that this is a conservative estimate, as the data doesn’t include all municipal workers.   Yet other than the executive branch, through a law passed in 2014, public employers are not required to comply with federal OSHA measures.

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 the authority to “investigate places of employment” and determine what “requirements are necessary for the prevention of industrial or occupational diseases.”  Through this law, the state responds to complaints, and investigates injuries and deaths at municipalities, public authorities and state agencies, requiring these agencies to comply with OSHA-level safety requirements or be fined.  But the law doesn’t require agencies to follow OSHA-level safety requirements before an incident occurs – an egregious example of the tail wagging the dog!
OSHA standards prevent injuries and saves 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 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 language reads:  Section 6 of chapter 149 of the general laws is hereby amended by adding a new sentence at the end of the first paragraph as follows:  All such rules, regulations and orders for the prevention of accidents and the prevention of industrial or occupational diseases shall provide at least the level of protection to employees as are provided under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. chapter 15, including standards and provisions of the general duty clause.  In the absence of a state rule, regulation or order, the department shall apply the relevant provision(s) of that act.