A new law that provides safety and health protections to Massachusetts executive branch employees went into effect on March 24. The law, which requires that safety measures be at least as protective as those found under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, seeks to stem the high human and financial toll of workplace injury, illness and death.
“This is a huge step forward for the commonwealth,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb. “By instituting health and safety measures that are known to prevent injury and death, we will protect the well-being of our state’s employees and save the taxpayers costly workers compensation costs.”
To ensure that the law will be effective, the state’s Department of Labor Standards (DLS), which enforces the law, has set up training sessions for agency heads, management and supervisors throughout the state. Labor-management health and safety committees, established in all state agencies under Executive Order 511, will continue to play an important role in identifying hazards, looking at injury and illness data and gathering input from state employees regarding incidents and near-misses. An advisory board, which includes administration, labor, UMass Lowell, and MassCOSH, will provide input into the law’s implementation.
"State employees face just as many, and often more, on-the-job risks and dangers as those in the private sector,” said MOSES President Joe Dorant, an advisory board member. “This new law is an essential step toward instituting safety measures that will prevent needless workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. It is a tremendous opportunity to provide state workers the same protections that private employees enjoy.”
MassCOSH is offering health and safety introductory sessions to state employees through their unions and is holding quarterly executive branch conference calls to educate workers about how to ensure their right to safe, healthy working conditions. MassCOSH is also working with public employee unions and its members to ensure that the enforcement agency, DLS, has the resources needed to do its job. Governor Charlie Baker included $500,000 in funding for DLS, and MassCOSH is encouraging its members to call their legislators to ensure that this funding included in the House and Senate budgets as well.
“Like any law, the state employee health and safety measure is only going to be effective if workers are able to speak freely, if state agencies implement the safety measures in compliance with the law, and if the Department of Labor Standards has the resources to enforce the law,” said Goldstein-Gelb.