Safety Protections for Public Employees

Public Employees Deserve Health and Safety Protections

Executive Order and Legislation (HB 1866/SB 1088)

Background: They pick up our trash, put out our fires, care for our disabled and provide needed services for the state, in cities and towns or counties. They are highway workers exposed daily to lead dust. They are MWRA workers, exposed to raw sewage often in small, enclosed spaces. And they are maintenance workers who work with heavy machinery. But the health and well being of the more than 400,000 city, state and county employees who labor in Massachusetts are less valued than those who work in the private sector.

Each year 10 – 15% of workers in Massachusetts killed on the job are public sector workers. Thousands more are injured or become ill - but only private sector workers are covered under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

A Public Sector Workplace Fatality in 2004 That Could Have Been Prevented

In August, 2004, Roger Leblanc, a 39 year old MassPort electrician, lost his life after he was electrocuted while working at Logan Airport. A report issued by the state's Division of Occupational Safety documented a number of basic safety measures that could have saved his life. These measures would have been required under OSHA – if MassPort had been a private sector employer.

Over 400,000 State, County and City Workers Lack OSHA Protections

The health and well being of the more than 400,000 state, county and city workers who labor in Massachusetts are less valued than those who work in the private sector – they have become second class citizens when it comes to health and safety on the job.


State Worker Occupation Hazard OSHA Standard Public Sector Regulation
Electrical Electrical Current Lock /Tag out 1910.147(c)(1) None
Water and Sewer
MWRA & Massport
Crawl space, Manhole, contaminated air Confined Space 1910.146 1910.146 (c) None
Maintenance Workers Fall from heights Fall Protection 1910.95 None
Airport Ramp Workers Noise /Hearing loss Hearing Conservation 1910.95 None
Construction workers Construction Hazards Construction Standard 1926 None
Turnpike toll booth Diesel Exhaust fumes 1910.1000 None
Longshoring, Massport Fork Lift Trucks 1910.178, 1915, 1915.1000. None
MassHighway/Turnpike Asphalt fumes PPE 1910.132 None
Inspectors, engineers Chemical exposures Hazwoper Standard 1910.120 None

Why aren't Massachusetts public sector workers covered by OSHA?
OSHA, passed in 1970, develops and enforces job safety and health standards and regulations. These standards limit the amount of hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to, mandate the use of certain safety practices, equipment and training, and require employers to monitor hazards and maintain records of workplace injuries and illnesses.

The law made it an option but did not require states to provide OSHA protections to their public employees. But if a state adopted OSHA guidelines, the federal government would pick up 50% of the cost. More than 20 states provide public sector workers with equal protections. The same should be true in Massachusetts.

What we are seeking

Executive order:

A coalition of public sector unions, convened by MassCOSH, is calling for the Governor to issue an executive order extending OSHA protections to state employees. The executive order would require that departments establish labor and management health and safety committees that conduct a hazard assessment and determine priority health and safety concerns to be addressed. It would give the DOS the authority to conduct investigations and the power to establish regulations and corrective action where it has found a violation. The DOS already has employees in place who are trained in OSHA standards and routinely reference(s) them throughout the course of its work. The DOS has its own laboratory in which hazardous materials are tested, eliminating the need for additional equipment

The Mass. Department of Labor has already begun to develop a draft of an executive order which is expected to be submitted to the Governor by early December. If we succeed in urging the Governor to support this, state employees will be covered under OSHA by early 2008!


We are also seeking passage of state legislation, HB 1866/SB 1088, An Act to provide a Safe Workplace for Employees of the Commonwealth and its Political sub-Divisions, which requires the state's Division of Occupational Safety (DOS) to apply federal occupational and health standards to public employees in general, not just state employees. It gives the DOS the authority to conduct investigations and the power to establish regulations and corrective action where it has found a violation.

Though labor and safety and health professionals are well aware that OSHA's protections are insufficient, an executive order and state legislation will help ensure that public sector employees at least benefit from the same protections as their private sector counterparts. It's only fair.

How you can support the legislation:

How you can support the legislation: