Violent assaults, falls and lifting injuries caused the most injuries to state workers in Massachusetts between FY2010 and FY2012, according to a report released March 26. Approximately 3,000 Massachusetts state workers experienced job-related injuries serious enough to require time off from work and four workers lost their lives during that time period, according to “State Employee Health and Safety Achievements and Recommendations” released by the Massachusetts Employee Safety and Health Advisory Committee. The committee was created as part of Executive Order 511.
Patrick issued Executive Order 511 in 2009 to address health and safety protections for commonwealth employees because public workers are not covered by federal OSHA standards and rules. That order established the Massachusetts Employee Safety and Health Advisory Committee, which was tasked with examining the safety of state workers and making recommendations to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses.
“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.”
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.
“State employees work every day to keep the commonwealth’s air, water, environment, health and infrastructure safe,” said Joe Dorant, president, Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists. “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.”
Workers' Compensation Costs
According to the report, the commonwealth spends approximately $31 million every year paying the direct medical and workers’ compensation wage costs associated with injuries and illnesses in the executive branch, and approximately $48 million across all branches of state government. Adding in the other direct costs such as lump sum settlements and rehabilitation and indirect costs such as lost time, replacement worker costs, reduced productivity and claims administration time, these losses to the state are estimated to be $62 million for executive branch agencies and $96 million across all branches of government.
In addition to creating the Advisory Committee, 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.
Three Agencies Experienced Higher Rates of Lost-Time Injuries
The report found that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) were the top three secretariats with the highest rates of lost time claims, which is consistent with the significant level of hazard associated with many of the jobs workers perform for these agencies.
- 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 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.
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. Rep. 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 Gov. 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 Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development passed the bill this month 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.”