In a letter to U.S. Senator Johnny H. Isakson (R-GA), a leader in occupational safety and health issues, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) urged support for provisions in OSHA reform legislation that would provide federal-level safety and health protections for the more than eight million state and municipal workers now without coverage, noting that the only practical solution is a federal solution, according to an ASSE press release.

In his letter to Isakson, the ranking minority member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions’ Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, ASSE President C. Christopher Patton, CSP, noted that under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), states without their own state OSH plans are not required to provide such protections. Achieving OSH coverage for public sector workers is important to ASSE members, occupational safety, health and environmental professionals who work in all industries worldwide.

“Millions of workers are not provided federal occupational safety and health protections due to the fact that the OSH Act only requires such coverage in states with their own occupational safety and health plans,” Patton wrote. “ASSE supports providing all public sector employees with federal OSH protections and urge you to keep the provision that would provide this coverage in the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAW Act, S. 1580) bill now under consideration.

“If this provision is dropped from reform legislation, it would be a significant lost opportunity to correct the failure of the OSH Act to treat all workers equally,” Patton said. “Giving all workers the minimal protections afforded by federal OSHA standards would be argument enough to support this provision.”

ASSE urges Isakson to consider the unmeasured burden that taxpayers are bearing because the states in which they live do not adequately protect workers.

“This nation’s best employers are committed to workplace safety and health at levels far above the minimal levels of OSHA,” Patton said. “They do so not only because it is the right thing to do for their employees but also because it is a prudent, cost-effective business practice. Most employers in this nation understand that a relatively small investment in workplace safety and health pays off with reduced costs for liability insurance, workers compensation, worker lost-time and overall productivity.”

Patton also noted that efforts to achieve this coverage at the state level are difficult.

“As much as we would like to think that states are moving in this direction on their own as private sector employers have, they are not,” Patton wrote. “Only one state in recent years, Illinois, has taken steps to establish a federally-approved state plan for public sector workers. Efforts to achieve such coverage at the state level are extremely difficult, as ASSE’s members in Florida know first-hand. Introduction of ASSE-championed bills in Florida that would simply require the state’s public sector employers to meet federal standards without an enforcement mechanism took three years to be introduced.”

An investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Board (CSB) into the 2006 Daytona Beach municipal water treatment facility that took the lives of two workers found Florida’s lack of OSH coverage for its public sector workers contributed to those deaths. In response, ASSE Florida members led ASSE to provide the resources needed to help pass legislation in 2008 establishing a task force charged with determining how to best protect Florida’s workers that reinforced the need to provide the state’s public sector employers to meet federal OSH Act standards – without any enforcement provisions or resources to support the requirement. A bill requiring these protections failed to pass in 2009. The bill passed the House, but not the Senate.

“The only practical solution to this problem is a federal solution. Whether that is Section 101 of the PAW Act, or another approach that incentivizes states to protect their workers, ASSE urges you to use your leadership to help find a way to achieve universal worker occupational safety and health protections,” Patton said.