Governor’s Advisory Committee on Employee Health and Safety Releases Findings

March 24, 2014

An Advisory Committee created by Governor Deval Patrick to study state work-place risks and dangers released a landmark report (click to view) with key recommendations to reduce injury, illness and deaths for the Commonwealth’s Executive Branch  employees.  During a State House briefing, state labor unions, safety advocates and members of the Patrick Administration applauded the work of the Advisory Committee and pledged support for a permanent framework of health and safety protections for state employees.  
Governor Patrick issued executive order 511 in 2009 to address health and safety protections for Commonwealth employees because public workers are not covered by federal Occupational Safety and Health standards and rules.
“The Patrick Administration’s goal is to reduce the potential for workplace injuries and illnesses and the associated costs the Commonwealth has to pay to deal with these risks,” said Rachel Kaprielian, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. “Through the work of the committee, we found that one of the best ways to do that is by ensuring that nationally-recognized worker protection standards become minimum standards of practice for state workers.”  
Joe Dorant, president, Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists, points out, "State employees work every day to keep the Commonwealth's air, water, environment, health and infrastructure safe.  And yet, these same dedicated professionals have not had the equivalent on-the-job safety protections as private workers.  EO511 is a critical first step to building a strong foundation for permanent protections for state employees through legislation.”

In addition to creating the Advisory Committee, Governor Patrick also called for a centralized infrastructure in state government which put a Health and Safety Coordinator in each Secretariat, set up 90 joint labor and management committees on health and safety to ensure all state employees were represented and improved the collection and use of injury and illness data.

These committees conducted agency by agency assessments to identify hazards in the workplace and directed a gap analysis comparing measures currently in place and national safety standards for serious worker risks such as chemical hazards, confined space, electrical hazards and falls from heights.

Major report findings include:

Between FY’10 and Fry’12, 3,000 state workers experienced job related injuries series enough to require time off from work and four workers lost their lives. 
The hazards causing the greatest number of these injuries included violence assaults, falls from heights and lifting injuries.
The top three contributors to lost time claims, consistent with the significant level of hazard associated with jobs workers perform were:
In EOHHS, health and human service workers are at high risk for assaults by patients/clients and for ergonomic injuries from lifting/moving patients or clients.
Within EOPPS, correction officers are also at high risk of assault by inmates. 
MassDOT employees and state police officers are at high risk of being struck by motor vehicles while working on roadways. 
Maintenance personnel and equipment operators at MassDOT have many serious risks including electrocution, falls from heights and usage of heavy equipment.  

EO511 achieved its core goal of building a health and safety infrastructure throughout state agencies, through the coordinated structure of the Advisory Committee, Coordinators within each agency and labor-management health and safety committees. 
Through EO511, many committees conducted immediate correction of identified gaps in health and safety practices and conducted planning for future corrections where more complex response or fiscal planning is needed.
Among the most significant recommendations in the report is the creation of an OSHA-type program of training and technical assistance enforcement for state government using federal standards and making permanent the work of agency health and safety coordinators and committees. Representative Thomas P. Conroy, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development has filed legislation that would codify many of the recommendations in the report
“Protecting the health and safety of our public employees is a top priority for me,” said Rep Conroy.  “I am proud to support the efforts of Governor Patrick, the state's labor unions, and safety advocacy groups, and I will work hard to ensure this important piece of legislation is signed into law soon.”
The Committee passed the bill in March and it is expected to move to the House Ways and Means.

“EO511 was a groundbreaking first step in addressing the serious hazards that state employees face and documenting the safety measures needed to address them,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health and a member of the EO511 Advisory Committee.  “Through legislation, we can make sure that these safety measures are institutionalized across state agencies to prevent needless injuries, illness and death.”