On Anniversary, Advocates Hail Law Protecting Executive Branch Employees, Release Progress Report

March 23, 2016

Big News! One year after a groundbreaking executive branch worker safety law that everyone pushed so hard for went into effect in Massachusetts, we are proud to say the law is playing a major role in averting injury and death for almost 36,000 Massachusetts executive branch workers! Check out the below to see what we made possible together.

One year after a groundbreaking executive branch worker safety law went into effect in Massachusetts, advocates are hailing the law’s role in averting injury and death for the 36,000 Massachusetts executive branch workers. A similar law, which would impact other public employees, is gaining traction in the state legislature, and could further stem the human and financial toll of workplace injuries.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), a workplace safety nonprofit organization, released a One Year Progress Report highlighting the laws’ achievements and areas for improvement (click here to view the report).

“It’s often not apparent to the public how hazardous many state employees’ jobs are,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, MassCOSH’s executive director. “Highway workers are exposed daily to lead dust; health care providers lift 10,000 pounds each day as they care for patients; and maintenance workers work with heavy machinery. The executive branch health and safety law was a critical step forward in ensuring that safety measures and systems are in place to prevent injury and death.”

Each year, an average of 3,500 Executive Branch employees suffer workplace injuries serious enough to require time off, and another 2000 worker injuries in other branches of state government. The Commonwealth spends over $31 million in direct workers compensation medical and wage costs.

Within a few months of implementation of the new 1aw, the state’s Department of Labor Standards was called in to a Worcester state hospital to address serious incidents of workplace violence. “The investigation revealed a serious lack of a comprehensive safety plan, and an inadequate response to workplace violence,” said Michael D'Intinosanto Sr., a nursing supervisor and president of Massachusetts Nursing Association unit that represents state employees. “As a result of this investigation, major changes are in the process of being implemented to protect workers and patients at that facility. Without these protections, it would be difficult for workers to speak out about unsafe working conditions.”

Highlights from the One Year Progress Report include:
Increased compliance with national occupational safety and health standards
DLS conducted 93 investigations, issuing reports and providing assistance to agencies throughout the Commonwealth to facilitate their compliance with national safety standards. All of the agencies have either come into compliance or are making progress towards compliance.

Enhanced knowledge of health and safety standards and practices:
The state’s Department of Labor Standards (DLS) provided 32 trainings to over 1000 executive branch employees to develop their health and safety knowledge and capabilities

Expanded resources and equipment to reduce injury and illness
Thirteen state agencies obtained capital grants to make safety improvements. For example, a state agency serving people with developmental disabilities who are non or partially ambulatory purchased lift equipment to move residents with reduced risk of painful back and shoulder injuries. The Department of Agricultural Services was able to purchase special LED lights for staff who work on roadways in poorly lit areas to reduce the risk of being hit by fast-moving traffic. Furthermore, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation instituted a pilot program using noise-canceling headsets to allow first responders to better hear each other when trying to communicate urgent calls, while reducing the risk of hearing loss

The Progress Report noted that, while 93 investigations is laudable, there are many state agencies that have not benefited from a DLS site visit to assess and ensure their compliance with federal safety standards. A budget created by a previous DLS Director had called for $500,000 more than the current DLS budget to ensure sufficient staffing to implement the program.
Advocates note that if the new measure passes extending safety and health protections to other public employees, the state would be eligible for federal OSHA matching funds – boosting the capacity of DLS dramatically.
“As a result of our agency working in consultation with DLS to conduct inspections, we are already seeing a downward trend in incidents in the workplace,” said Darryl Forgione, chair of the health and safety committee for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and member of the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists. “At the same time, there is a lot more that needs to be done. For example, the DLS training topics are valuable, but not all staff have the opportunity to participate, and management should be strongly encouraged to participate. While the general training provided by DLS is excellent, funding is needed for training on specific hazards.”
Joe Dorant, president, Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists, concurs, “We've come a long way with workplace safety in just one year, but we can do more. To support a safe environment where workers leave for work and come home safely at the end of the day, we need to provide proper resources to the Department charged with ensuring their safety in the workplace. We owe that to our workers and ourselves, and I'm confident the legislature will see the value in supporting added funding for DLS."