Massachusetts Senate passes bill to protect state, municipal workers

BOSTON—On Oct. 4, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation that provides all state and municipal workers with the same protections provided under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

Sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton), Bill S.2167, an act to further define standards of employee safety, ensures safe and healthy working conditions for all state and municipal workers.

OSHA, passed in 1970, made it an option to provide occupational safety protections to public employees. 26 states in the U.S. 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, the Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming – but not Massachusetts.

“Worker safety must be a top priority,” said Senator Pacheco. “Providing safe and healthy work conditions for all of Massachusetts workers, across all sectors, should be the least we do. Extending these protections to public employees helps them return home to their families, and we must make sure they continue to do so.”

“Massachusetts needs to stand for protections for workers,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “I am very proud that the Senate has taken this important step.”

“I’m proud of the Senate for voting to protect all workers in the Commonwealth, not just a select few,” said Senator Friedman (D-Arlington). “Public employees are at a high risk of danger while on the job; ensuring that there are proper health and safety measures in place to protect them is commonsense. I hope the House will follow our lead.”

The bill also requires the Governor to appoint a Municipal Occupational Health and Safety Subcommittee to the Occupational Health and Safety Hazard Advisory Board to assist in the act’s implementation. The subcommittee, in consultation with the board, will evaluate injury and illness data; recommend training and implementation of safety and health measures; monitor the effectiveness of safety and health programs; and determine whether additional measures are necessary to protect the safety and health of employees.

“Public employees repair our roads, remove our waste, care for our disabled and more, exposing themselves to proven hazards that cause needless injury,” said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of MassCOSH, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. “Each week, an average of 28 municipal workers suffer injuries serious enough to be out of work for five days or more. Today, the Senate has taken a critical step forward in ensuring that safety measures and systems are in place to protect these hard-working individuals and now it’s time for the House to do the same.”

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). Yet, except for the executive branch, state law does not explicitly specify OSHA as the baseline safety standard for all public employees. This legislation implements such protections.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 752,600 injury and illness cases were reported in 2015 among the approximately 18.4 million state and local government workers in the U.S. – for example, elementary and secondary schools, hospitals, and police or fire protection – resulting in a rate of 5.1 cases per 100 full-time workers. Approximately 4 in 5 injuries and illnesses reported in the public sector occurred among local government workers in 2015, resulting in an injury and illness rate of 5.6 cases per 100 full-time workers. Public sector workers accounted for 9 percent of all occupational fatalities.

“These injuries and deaths can be prevented,” Senator Pacheco said. “The Senate, once again, stood up to protect our workers. We will continue to do so.”