Public Employee Health and Safety Protections

On March 1, after over a decade of steadfast advocacy by labor advocates, a bill extending Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) protections to all public employees was signed by Governor Charlie Baker. This is what progress looks like.

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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.”
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.