Health and Safety Protections for Public Employees

When the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed in 1970, the law made it an option for states to provide OSHA protections to their public employees.  Massachusetts did not exercise that option. 

For years, Massachusetts safety advocates and public sector unions had urged past Governors and the legislature to extend safety protections to public employees.

Untangling the web of public sector coverage

Municipal and public authority workers:  Though few are aware of it, Massachusetts does have an occupational health and safety law: Chapter 149 Section 6 gives the state the authority to “investigate places of employment” and determine what “requirements are necessary for the prevention of industrial or occupational diseases.”  Because OSHA already covers the private sector they are not covered by this; and the law exempts state employees.  However, municipalities and public authorities are covered. 

The state’s Department of Labor Standards issued a memo (click link down below) years ago indicating: “In the absence of specific standards, it is the policy of our office that public sector employees follow the OSHA Standards as a minimum.  Compliance with the OSHA Standards will in most cases ensure compliance with the intent of Chapter 149 section 6.”   Recently DLS also determined that they have the authority to cite and fine employers covered under this law if they fail to comply. 

State Employees:  As mentioned above, state employees are exempt from the above law.  However, recognizing the critical importance of ensuring a safe, healthy environment for state employees, on April 28, 2009, Workers Memorial Day, Governor Patrick issued Executive Order 511, establishing health and safety committees and systems.   This executive order was an important first step in evaluating and improving the status of worker protections for state employees (Click below for Executive Order Fact Sheet).

Institutionalizing health and safety protections for state employees

MassCOSH and its labor allies are working to end the current fragmented system of coverage for public employees. 
An Act Extending Safety Protections to Employees of the Executive Branch (SB877/HB 2460; click below to view the fact sheet) eliminates the exemption prohibiting the state from providing safety protections to executive branch employees.  It ensures that state employees receive safety protections, at a minimum, equivalent to those in the private sector, afforded through federal OSHA protections.  It also provides the state with the authority to create standards to ensure the protection of state employees for hazards where no protections exist under federal laws and to establish an Advisory Board to guide these standards and implementation of the law.
The bill builds on Executive Order 511 enacted in 2009 by Governor Patrick which established a health and safety program.  Through EO511, health and safety committees were established in all state agencies to compare what is currently in place for protection against each serious hazard to the relevant worker protection standard, as well as health and safety management ideals.  The Executive Order has been guided by an Advisory Board, including management, labor and health and safety experts, comparable to the one called for in this legislation.
The Executive Order demonstrated that while, on the one hand, there currently are no consistent measures in place across agencies, there is a good deal of infrastructure and expertise in place to be able to do so. DLS already has employees in place that are trained in OSHA standards and routinely reference them throughout the course of their duties.  The DLS has its own laboratory in which hazardous materials are tested, eliminating the need for additional equipment. 

How you can get involved:

The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will hold a hearing on An Act Extending Safety Protections to Employees of the Executive Branch (SB877/HB 2460) on June 25, 10 AM, State House, Room B1.  Please submit written testimony in support of the bill and/or attend the hearing to show your support.
To become involved in this important effort, contact Marcy Goldstein-Gelb at 617-825-7233 x15 or