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Expanded worker protections in the Massachusetts?

July 16, 2013

One of the larger omissions in the Occupational Safety and Health Act is that the law doesn’t extend to state or local governments, meaning public employees don’t have the same protection guarantees as those in private industry. Lawmakers in several states have taken it upon themselves to change that lapse in coverage, and Massachusetts seeks to be the next one.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D) is pushing a bill (S. 877) that would extend OSHA protections to commonwealth employees.

“There are public servants who are out there doing work on behalf of the citizens of the commonwealth, and they should be entitled to the same safety protections as other places in the workforce have today,” Pacheco told me in a recent phone conversation.

Along with requiring state offices to comply with OSHA regulations, the bill would direct the governor to appoint an occupational health and safety hazard advisory board. This board would examine injury and illness data, provide training recommendations, and monitor the effectiveness of safety and health programs.

The bill is not part of a process to turn Massachusetts into a State Plan state, of which 27 exist currently. Pacheco said the legislation would be a “more efficient and quicker” process to extend protections to commonwealth employees in Massachusetts than the State Plan process. His bill would help elevate workplace safety to a higher level, the senator said, and could be considered a stepping stone to the State Plan process – if the commonwealth chooses to go that route.

Pacheco has tried to pass the bill for years, but it has recently garnered more media attention than previous attempts, he said, possibly due to a recent focus on the sacrifices public workers make.

Considering that about 8 million public workers nationwide are not protected under OSHA regulations, and their injury rates are higher than private workers, I’m hopeful Pacheco is successful this time.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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