Executive order extends workplace protections to state workers

At an April 28 ceremony commemorating Massachusetts workers killed and injured on the job in 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick announced an executive order that could help prevent state employees from meeting a similar fate. The executive order calls for the establishment of safety committees in all state agencies to document workplace hazards and safety measures needed. Safety experts and unions have been calling for the state to establish safety protections for public employees for years, but prior to the Patrick administration had been rebuffed.

"This Executive Order demonstrates the governor's commitment to protecting the health and safety of state employees in a truly meaningful way," announced Suzanne M. Bump, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "We look forward to working closely with our employees' representatives to improve the safety of our state workforce."

Unlike their counterparts in the private sector, public employees in the Commonwealth are not covered by safety requirements under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). When OSHA was enacted in the 1970s, it gave states the option to extend safety protections to public employees. Though 27 states already apply these regulations to public employees, Massachusetts does not.

"State employees do jobs that are just as or more dangerous than those in the private sector," said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, of which MTA is a member organization. "We applaud the governor for taking this essential step toward instituting safety measures that will most certainly prevent more needless workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths."

Each year, Commonwealth residents spend more than $50 million in workers' compensation costs for injuries and illnesses incurred by state employees alone.  According to data provided by New Hampshire's Department of Labor, after implementing OSHA protections to state employees in 1998, the state of New Hampshire reduced their workers comp claims by an average of 51 percent -- and between the years 2001 and 2004 they saved $3.3 million.

A report released in April by MassCOSH and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO highlighted a state electrical worker who suffered an injury in 2008. An investigation by the Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety found that the accident might have been prevented had the state instituted a number of basic safety measures which would have been required under OSHA.

MassCOSH, a nonprofit coalition representing more than 100,000 workers, health and safety professionals and unions, promotes safe, secure jobs and healthy communities throughout eastern and central Massachusetts.

Executive Order No. 511