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April 11, 2014
Massachusetts makes strides in protecting public sector workers

Employees who work for state and local governments are not covered by federal OSHA. But they do have protections if they work in states that operate their own OSHA programs (about half of all states). That still leaves millions of people unprotected. In Massachusetts, a committee assigned to assess the state’s progress in protecting the public workforce has come up with a set of recommendations. They may be relevant for your organization.

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Massachusetts spends about $48 million each year paying the direct medical and workers’ compensation wage costs associated with state employee injuries and illnesses. In 2009, the state enacted Executive Order 511 (EO 511) to reduce risk and reduce injuries and illnesses in the public sector. EO 511 created a centralized infrastructure for safety and health and established 90 joint labor/management health and safety committees for executive branch workplaces.

Massachusetts officials say these and other efforts are having an impact. One of the most promising changes is a dedicated wiki site for use by state employers and employees. It includes:

  • Model health and safety policies and procedures developed by state agencies,
  • Model policies and procedures from expert sources,
  • Links to sources of safety and health information,
  • A comprehensive training calendar, and
  • A discussion forum to post questions or share ideas with peers in other agencies.

Among recommendations contained in the report:

  • Create an OSHA-type program of training, technical assistance, and enforcement for state government using federal standards.
  • Make the role of agency health and safety coordinators and committees permanent.
  • Conduct a central review of the health and safety needs and corrective actions lists from all committees and identify and implement what can be provided at the central level.

Efforts are currently under way in the state legislature to codify these and other recommendations from the report.

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