The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) last week urged "governments at all levels to take steps to protect public employees from preventable chemical accidents, including the establishment of programs incorporating mandatory OSHA standards."

"It is simply inequitable to afford public employees with lesser workplace protections than workers in private industry,” CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt, speaking on behalf of the five-member board, said in written testimony submitted Thursday for a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing. “No worker — whether employed by the city, county, state, federal government, or the private sector — should have to suffer injury or death just to earn a living."

The hearing before the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), was entitled "Workplace Safety: Why do Millions of Workers Remain Without OSHA Coverage?"

The board testimony cited the CSB's investigation of a January 2006 methanol fire and explosion at a Florida municipal wastewater treatment plant that killed two public employees and seriously injured a third.

The accident at the wastewater facility, which is owned and operated by the City of Daytona Beach, occurred when city employees using a cutting torch to dismantle a metal roof accidentally ignited vapors coming from the vent of a nearby methanol storage tank. Flames traveled back into the storage tank through a corroded flame arrester, causing an internal explosion, multiple piping failures, and a large fire that engulfed the workers.

In its investigation report, the CSB concluded that a lack of hazard communication, inadequate safety training, and no control of hot work contributed to the accident.

The CSB report noted that no Florida state laws or regulations exist to require municipalities to implement safe work practices or communicate chemical hazards to municipal employees. Florida is one of 26 states that have not adopted plans under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide OSHA coverage for public employees. Florida had a safety program for public workers, but it was discontinued in 2000.