MassCOSH Announces Support of Comprehensive COVID-19 Surge Protection Legislation

July 16, 2020

Jeff Newton, MassCOSH Communications Director
(315) 546 6391
Worker Advocacy Group Announces Support of Comprehensive COVID-19 Surge Protection Legislation
Says bill is the first they have seen that would make dramatic strides in preventing virus spread

BOSTON            Today, as confirmed COVID-19 cases rapidly increase around the nation, the Massachusetts Coalition For Occupational Safety And Health (MassCOSH), a workplace safety advocacy group, demands that our state elected officials pass An Act relative to preventing a COVID-19 resurgence to protect workers and the public from preventable diseases infection. The organization states the bill offers the most compressive worker health and safety protections it is has seen come from the State House and would dramatically increase the public’s ability to contain SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Filed by Representative Jon Santiago (Democrat - 9th Suffolk), Representative Mindy Domb (Democrat - 3rd Hampshire) and Senator Harriet Chandler (Democrat -1st Worcester), the bill outlines emergency public measures that are to be taken to prevent the resurgence of the COVID-19 in Massachusetts. Recognizing that workplace exposure is a keyway in which people are becoming ill and spreading the virus, the legislators included a section workplace health and safety.
With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with protecting workers, abandoning their responsibilities (they have received over 7,200 COVID-19 related complaints nationwide and have issued just one citation), the task of protecting workers has fallen to the states. Still, it took nearly five months into the pandemic for the first state in the nation, Virginia, to establish enforceable workplace safety standards for the coronavirus.
Here in Massachusetts, the Baker Administration has issued “Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces” that rely on employers to “self-certify” compliance and leaves enforcement to local boards of health without providing the organizations any resources or training. At most, employers can receive fines of no more than $900 for failing to meet the standards. To help ensure worker issues get to local boards of health, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office created an on-line form to collect complaints. According to data now available on the Attorney General’s website, from May 19 – July 7, the Attorney General received 911 complaints.
MassCOSH is highly encouraged that the bill incorporates many of the worker health and safety demands that the organization has been calling for since the beginning of the pandemic.
The bill requires the Baker Administration strengthen mandatory safety standards by requiring a plan for proactive enforcement that does not rely solely on complaints from employees or members of the public. It restores the ability to local boards of health to issue fines, close businesses and issue safety standards that are stronger than those issued by the Baker Administration. It requires that workplace safety assessments be conducted jointly with employees and employers and that they protect workers from the danger of aerosol transmission of SARS-Cov-2.

It ensures protection of workers that report unsafe conditions or refuse dangerous work from retaliation and ensures workers’ compensation benefits to workers that contract the virus through workplace exposure.
MassCOSH fully supports and endorses An Act relative to preventing a COVID-19 resurgence to protect workers and the public from the preventable resurgence of COVID-19. The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee, however, MassCOSH is calling on members of the public to ask their legislators to co-sponsor the legislation.

About MassCOSH
MassCOSH strives to ensure that all workers earn their living and return home alive and well. MassCOSH unites workers, unions and community groups with environmental and health activists, to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions.