Florida’s failure to adopt recommendations to provide state and municipal public workers with the same workplace protections as their private sector counterparts has been labeled an “Unacceptable Response” by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which made the recommendations.

It is the first time that a CSB recommendation issued to a state and its legislature has been closed due to an unacceptable response by the recipient. CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso called on Florida to reconsider legislation that would provide adequate workplace protection for public employees.

The CSB’s recommendations stemmed from an investigation into a January 11, 2006, methanol fire and explosion at the Bethune Wastewater Treatment plant in Daytona Beach that killed two public employees and seriously injured a third.  

Sparks from a welding torch used by Daytona Beach city workers above a tank of methanol ignited vapors that exploded. The CSB found that the if the city had implemented  hot work and hazardous communication (HAZCOM) programs conforming to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards, “the hazards of using a torch in proximity to the methanol tank would likely have been identified and possibly prevented.”  In Florida, OSHA safety and health protections apply to private employees, but not public employees, even though many such workers perform potentially hazardous work. 

 In a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott, Moure-Eraso noted that in recent years, proposed legislation to provide workplace protections for public workers had been strongly supported by a broad coalition of trade groups, businesses, and unions but failed to pass in 2009 and 2010.  “Since no bill to secure health and safety protections for Florida’s public employees was introduced during the 2011 legislative sessions, the Board has concluded that neither you nor the State Legislature intend to take action to implement the CSB’s recommendations.”

Moure-Eraso urged state officials to revisit the recommendations.

 “Florida’s inaction is unacceptable as it means public employees doing potentially hazardous work have inadequate workplace protections – which they would have if they were private-sector workers. The CSB has found that currently 27 states and jurisdictions operate safety and health programs for their public employees.  There can be little doubt that these basic workplace standards help prevent accidents and save lives in those states.”

The CSB’s Bethune investigation found that in addition to the accident that occurred at the wastewater treatment plant in Daytona Beach, 33 other chemical-related incidents had occurred in Florida from 2003 to 2007. These incidents all involved chemicals that would be covered by the federal OSHA hazard communication regulations.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.