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Pennsylvania lawmakers reintroduce bill on OSHA oversight of public workers

Photo: travelif/iStockphoto

Harrisburg, PA — Democrats in the Pennsylvania House and Senate have continued their push to extend OSHA protections to state and municipal employees.

Sens. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks) and Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) co-hosted a joint public hearing on March 20 at the state capitol with Reps. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) and Patrick Harkins (D-Erie).

Currently, public-sector workers in Pennsylvania are covered under Accident and Illness Prevention Programs, with individual agencies permitted to select what components to implement. On March 10, Harkins reintroduced the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill (H.B. 299), which would extend OSHA protections to public workers in the state. Schwab, a mechanic with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, was killed on the job in 2014. 

“There are so many public employees that put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our communities, to improve our roads and to respond to emergencies,” Muth said in a press release. “These individuals deserve better and they deserve workplace safety protections.”

The hearing included testimony from Keith Wentz, risk management director for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania; Angela Ferritto, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO; Arthur Steinberg, president of the Pennsylvania American Federation of Teachers; and J. David Henderson, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13.

“Public-sector workers cannot and should not continue to be treated as second-class employees,” Bizzarro said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, a recently completed study, which examined a five-year period (from fiscal year 2016/2017 to FY 2020/2021), estimates the costs of adopting OSHA standards for public-sector employees under the governor’s jurisdiction at $54.8 million at baseline and $14.4 million for the first year. 

In October 2021, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) mandated the study in an Executive Order, on the basis that it would “advance worker protections” in Pennsylvania.

“We have heard the outcry that municipalities can’t afford this, and my response has always been, what price are we placing on human life?” Harkins said. “It’s truly a shame if we can’t afford to protect our workers.”

Similar bills were introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate (S.B. 310, sponsored by Tartaglione) and House (H.B. 1976, sponsored by Harkins) in March 2021 and October 2021, respectively. Neither bill advanced past the committee stage.

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