All Mass. Public Workers to be Covered by OSHA Safety Standards for the First Time in State History

May 14, 2018

Jeff Newton, MassCOSH Communications Coordinator
(O) (617) 825-7233 x14
All Mass. Public Workers to be Covered by OSHA Safety Standards for the First Time in State History
Mass. Labor Advocates Celebrate Hard-Won Protections
BOSTON          Today, after over a decade of steadfast advocacy by labor advocates, a bill extending Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) protections to all public employees has been signed by Governor Charlie Baker.
An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety (Bill S.999), co-sponsored by Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton) and Representative James J. O'Day (D-14th Worcester) updates Massachusetts’ antiquated public sector safety laws, which had failed to clearly define what measures public agencies should employ to keep workers safe. The new legislation now covers all the state’s public workers with OSHA safety standards for the first time in state history.
“Worker safety needs to be a top priority in the Commonwealth, and this legislation helps secure equal protection for all workers in our state," said Senator Pacheco. "Providing public employees with the same safety standards experienced by those in the private sector is long overdue. We must do all we can to make sure workers are provided safe and healthy work conditions. It's plain common sense."
The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, a workers’ rights group who had been fighting to cover public worker with OSHA protections for almost a decade was ecstatic over the bill’s passage.
“This is a historic victory for workers in the state,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “Over the coming years, untold number of lives will be saved because OSHA protections will now cover thousands more workers. A huge thank you goes out to all those who helped honor fallen workers by fighting so hard for those who can still be protected.”
“I’m very proud of what we accomplished today,” said O’Day. “We finally got the opportunity to fully expand protections from unsafe working conditions for workers in the Commonwealth.  It’s time we put an end to preventable injuries and fatalities on the job. On behalf of so many public sector workers whose lives are protected by this bill, I’m grateful to Speaker DeLeo, my colleagues in the House, and all those committed advocates who fought to push this across the finish line, and I urge the Governor to sign this legislation as quickly as possible.”

"State employees face just as many, and often more, on-the-job risks and dangers as those in the private sector,” said Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists President Joe Dorant. “This new law is an essential step toward instituting safety measures that will prevent needless workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths.”
“We worked diligently to resolve differences in the bill between the House and Senate to ensure its passage,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The welfare of our tireless workforce is of utmost priority, and today we celebrate and recognize these essential employees.”
“The legislature has taken an important step forward in protecting all workers today, who will finally enjoy the full protections afforded under OSHA," said National Association of Government Employees President David J. Holway. “We thank the members of the House and Senate for their continued leadership in protecting the men and women who make our commonwealth work and we urge the Governor to support this initiative with his signature so that we can finalize this important protection and finally see it made law.”
MassCOSH Fact Sheet on An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety (H3952/S2167)
H3952/S2167 will:  1) Prevent illness, injury and death by expanding OSHA standards of protection to an additional 428,510 public sector workers. 2) Save the State dollars in workers compensation and lost time costs. 3) Provide equity for public and private sector workers. 4) Make the state eligible for federal matching grant dollars.
Why do we need this Legislation? 
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).  Between 2005 and 2016, 52 municipal workers lost their lives from traumatic injuries at work in Massachusetts – an average of four workers each year. In 2017, 6 public sector workers have been killed at work. Yet, except for the executive branch, state law does not explicitly specify OSHA as the baseline safety standard for all public employees.
What will this bill do?  
Currently there is great confusion as to who is subject to OSHA standards.  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. As a policy, 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 quasi- public authority workers.  This law would codify the existing policy and eliminate any confusion.  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.  Effectively, it will expand OSHA standards of protection to 428,510 public sector workers (86,800 FTE state workers and 341,721 FTE municipal workers).
How will this bill save the Commonwealth money? 
Public agencies spend millions of dollars in workers’ compensation and lost time costs.  In Massachusetts, workers’ compensation and sick leave costs for the Commonwealth’s authorities, cities and towns, are estimated to total almost $200 million per year. A 2015 report done by the Commonwealth of MA highlighted that the Commonwealth has reduced its worker’s compensation claims by 12.2% since Executive Order 511, which established an advisory committee to recommend and implement best practices for occupational safety and health, that was signed in 2009.  
How will this bill bring federal dollars to the State? 
States which directly cite OSHA regulations as the minimum standard for ALL public employees are eligible for federal grant dollars which provide a one-to-one match to fund the technical assistance and enforcement of public employee safety programs. MA would be eligible to apply for these grants if this law were to pass.  
An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety Bill Text
SECTION 1.  Section 6 of chapter 149 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 24, the words “authority hereof” and inserting in place thereof the following words:- this section or section 6 ½. SECTION 2. Said chapter 149 is hereby further amended by striking out section 6 ½, as so appearing, and inserting in place thereof the following section:- Section 6 ½. (a) For the purposes of this section, the following words shall have the following meanings unless the context clearly requires otherwise: “Public employees”, individuals employed by a public employer. “Public employers”, places of employment subject to section 28 of chapter 7, any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth or of any political subdivision of the commonwealth, any quasi-public independent entity and any authority or body politic and corporate established by the general court to serve a public purpose. (b) Public employers shall provide public employees at least the level of protection provided under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. 651 et. seq., including standards and provisions of the general duty clause contained in 29 U.S.C. 654. (c) The governor shall appoint an occupational health and safety hazard advisory board which shall consist of the following 21 members: the secretary of labor and workforce development or a designee, who shall serve as the co-chairperson; the personnel administrator or a designee, who shall serve as co-chairperson; the director of the division of labor standards or a designee; the secretary of administration and finance or a designee; the director of the office of employee relations or a designee; the commissioner of public health or a designee; the director of industrial accidents or a designee; 4 representatives from labor unions representing public employees; 1 representative from a community-based health and safety advocacy organization; the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, Inc. or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts Highway Association or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Inc. or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, Inc. or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts Water Works Association Inc. or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association or a designee; and 1 member of the faculty of the department of work environment at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. The advisory board shall 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 to protect the safety and health of public employees. (d) The department shall promulgate regulations to enforce this section. The department shall consult with the advisory board established in subsection (c) prior to: (i) adopting or amending the regulations; or (ii) the submission of a state plan for occupational safety and health standards and their enforcement to the United States Secretary of Labor pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 667. The department may, after consulting with the advisory board, adopt specific regulations for individual quasi-public independent entities and authorities. (e) The attorney general may bring a civil action for declaratory or injunctive relief to enforce this section.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect on February 1, 2019.

About MassCOSH
MassCOSH strives to ensure that all workers earn their living and return home alive and well. MassCOSH unites workers, unions and community groups with environmental and health activists, to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions.