Equal Protection for Equal Work

November 18, 2014

In 2004, the fatal electrocution of 39-year-old Roger LeBlanc, a Massport electrician, spurred labor unions and MassCOSH to unite behind health and safety legislation seeking to ensure that no other public employee would suffer a similar fate. This past June, ten years later, the Commonwealth made groundbreaking strides towards this goal by passing a law ensuing state employees’ health and safety protections are equal to or greater than federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

“I have witnessed firsthand the heartache and devastation on-the-job injury, and even death, can cause,” explained Joe Dorant, President of Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists. “Enforcing these new protections will give state employees and their family members the peace of mind they deserve."

Eager to make certain that the law is effective and that other public employees aren’t left out in the cold, the public employee unions and MassCOSH are working to ensure that the state issues strong, effective regulations, that the Department of Labor Standards has sufficient funds to oversee the law’s implementation, and that new legislation is filed extending protections to other public employees not covered under the law.

"This new law is vitally important because it will help to ensure that state employees have basic health and safety programs in place to prevent many of the common injuries associated with their work," said Christine Pontus, Associate Director of Health and Safety for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "Now we need to be actively involved in the regulation-setting process to ensure that the state has an effective, standardized process to monitor and evaluate the environment and working conditions for these workers."

As members of the Governor’s Advisory Committee, MassCOSH, labor and administration representatives will have an opportunity to evaluate injury and illness data, recommend training and implementation of safety and health measures, monitor the effectiveness of safety and health programs, and determine where additional resources are needed.

“This law would not have been possible without the leadership of public workers and their unions, the Patrick Administration, and legislature,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb. “Now we have a groundbreaking opportunity to close the gap, and ensure that all the Commonwealth’s employees have the same opportunity to go to work and return home with their health and well-being intact.”