Public Worker Protections, Promised and Delivered

June 14, 2018

This past March, after over a decade of steadfast advocacy by labor advocates, An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety, a bill extending Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) protections to all public employees, was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker.
 
This welcome victory could not have come soon enough. Public employees repair our roads, remove our trash and recyclables, care for our disabled, and provide needed services for residents of the Commonwealth.  They work at great heights and in deep holes. They are health care providers who lift 10,000 pounds each day as they care for patients, and they are maintenance workers who work with dangerous machinery. Each week, 28 of these 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.  Worst still, between 2005 and 2016, 52 municipal workers lost their lives from traumatic injuries at work in Massachusetts – an average of four workers each year.
 
An Act to Further Define Standards of Employee Safety 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 expands OSHA standards of protection to 428,521 public sector workers (86,800 state workers and 341,721 municipal workers). Now, all employees, regardless of employer, have consistent OSHA safety protections.

"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.”

“The legislature has taken an important step forward in protecting all workers, 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.”
 
The new law goes into effect in February 2019.  In the meantime, MassCOSH will be working with its partners to ensure that the infrastructure and funding is in place to fully implement this historic victory.