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American Society of Safety Engineers Urge Occupational Safety & Health Coverage for All Public Sector Workers

Posted in on Thu, May 24, 2007

Washinton, D.C. (May 24, 2007) — American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) member Jon Turnipseed, a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and safety supervisor for the city of San Bernardino, CA, Municipal Water Department, testified before a Congressional Committee today on the urgent need to provide public sector workers throughout the U.S. with the same occupational safety and health protections private sector workers have under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act).

At today’s House Education and Labor Committee’s Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing on “Workplace Safety: Why do Millions of Workers Remain Without OSHA Coverage?” , Turnipseed noted that ASSE has long advocated the need to address the lack of occupational safety and health coverage for all state and local government workers.

“With the attention today’s hearing brings to the issue, ASSE hopes that the reasons why millions of workers remain without OSHA coverage can quickly be resolved,” Turnipseed said.

According to U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1992 to 2001, 6,455 employees of government entities at all levels were fatally injured while at work.

“Today, workplace safety and health protections put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Act apply only to private sector workers and not all state and local government employees,” Turnipseed testified. “Under the OSH Act, states are allowed to run their own state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) programs in lieu of federal coverage. These approved state OSHA programs must be at least as effective as the federal program and, unlike the federal OSHA, are required to cover both the private sector and their own state and local government workers.”

Currently, 21 states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming — and Puerto Rico have federally approved OSHA programs covering public employees. Three states whose private sector workers are covered by federal OSHA – Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, along with the Virgin Islands – have federally approved state programs that apply only to state and local government workers.

“So, 26 states and the District of Columbia leave their state and local government workers unprotected by any federally approved occupational safety and health laws.” Turnipseed said. “Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Strangely, there is no pattern or underlying reason for this lack of coverage.

“This should change. Since 1970, a missing section in the OSH Act has impacted the well being of an estimated 8.1 million public sector workers who are not protected from occupational safety and health risks,” Turnipseed said. “We need to fix that now and ASSE and its 30,000 members stand ready to help this Committee achieve that fairness. We fully support provisions offered by members of Congress that would do just that.”

Public sector jobs are not free of risks. Turnipseed noted that in his own job he makes sure that California OSHA regulations are followed to protect the people who provide drinking water and waste water treatment for the city. He said the people he works with enter hundreds of underground vaults, trenches and pits several times each and every year. He noted the potentially lethal atmosphere in a vault and other similar confined spaces, and the potential for a trench collapse, and how they can turn work deadly. Many of these trench entries are in the middle of heavy-traffic streets and highways, which not only compounds trench stability issues but also poses risks to workers on the street level who must try to control the never-ending flow of traffic.”

Turnipseed noted the U.S. Chemical and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) investigation into a January 11, 2006, explosion at the City of Daytona Beach’s Bethune Waste Water Treatment Plant that killed two municipal employees and gravely injured a third. In 2000, Florida stopped requiring state entities to provide safety and health coverage, giving public sector employers the freedom to provide such coverage voluntarily. CSB found the lack of coverage to be a factor in the workers’ deaths. At the time of the explosion Daytona Beach did not have a commonly found “hotwork” permit system used by OSHA to control cutting and welding operations nor a hazard communication plan needed to train workers on the hazards of the flammable chemicals they were told to work above.

“We believe public sector workers deserve the same workplace safety protections private workers have. ASSE members are working to see that Florida public sector workers receive occupational safety and health coverage,” Turnipseed said. “Yet, the surest way to achieve coverage of all uncovered workers is an amendment to the OSH Act. As noted, we fully support the provisions members of Congress are offering that would close the gap. Until it is made law, however, ASSE members will continue to work for solutions at the state level, as in Florida.”

Founded in 1911, ASSE is the oldest and largest professional safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. It’s more than 30,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues. For a full copy of the testimony and more information please go to www.asse.org.



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