Monday, October 17, 2005

Public vs. Private Sector Employees: Not Created Equal

Roger LeBlanc was electrocuted on Aug. 3, 2004, while trying to restore power at the Hilton Hotel at Logan International Airport.

Paul R. King was electrocuted on July 27, 2005,
when he came in contact with an energized 480-volt electrical box while working at Logan International Airport in Boston, on the roof of Terminal C.

Two weeks ago, OSHA proposed a total of $54,000 in fines against King's employer, Main Tech, a facilities support services contractor for Jet Blue.
OSHA's investigation found that the electrical box had not been deenergized and its power source locked out prior to starting the work. Procedures to do so had not been developed and no qualified person had tested to verify that electrical circuits and parts had been deenergized.

In addition, the deceased and a second worker had not been trained in safe electrical work practices or supplied protective gloves and face protection. A workplace hazard assessment to determine what protective equipment the workers needed was not conducted. Finally, the workers were exposed to fall hazards from the terminal roof and a trailer due to lack of guardrails.
No penalty was ever proposed for Le Blanc's death even though OSHA regulations were violatedby his employer as well.

So why a penalty for King's employer and not for Le Blanc's? Because Le Blanc was an employee of Massport, a government agency, and government employees in Massachusetts (and 26 other states) are not covered by OSHA -- they have no right to a safe workplace.

Massachusetts House Bill 3753 and Senate Bill 1773 would provide OSHA coverage for public employees. According to a MassCOSH brochure:
They pick up our trash, put out our fires, care for our disabled and provide needed services for the state, in cities and towns or counties. They are highway workers exposed daily to lead dust. They are MWRA workers, exposed to raw sewage often in small, enclosed spaces. And they are maintenance workers who work with heavy machinery. But the health and well being of the more than 400,000 city, state and county employees who labor in Massachusetts are less valued than those who work in the private sector.

Each year 10 – 15% of workers in Massachusetts killed on the job are public sector workers. Thousands more are injured or become ill - but only private sector workers are covered under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
What are the chances of these getting passed? You might think pretty good as the Democrats dominate both houses of the legislature.

Yet year, after year, public employees continue to be treated like second class citizens whose lives aren't even worth the same protections that private sector employees have. Something wrong with this.