Florida: Committee approves bill to boost workplace safety for public employees
The Florida House Governmental Affairs Policy Committee unanimously passed H.B. 1029, sponsored by Rep. AudreyGibson, D-Jacksonville. The bill would require all Florida cities, counties, municipalities, school districts, state agencies and special districts to comply with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's standards for protecting public sector workers. It would also require public employers to submit injury and illness data to the state's Division of Workers' Compensation. If approved, the legislation would go into effect July 1.
The legislation grew out of concern after an explosion at a municipal water treatment plant in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 2006 killed two city workers and severely injured another.
In response to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board's request, the Florida Legislature convened a 15-member task force to review whether the lack of required occupational safety and health protections for public sector employees may have led to those deaths.
The Florida Public Task Force on Workplace Safety issued a report in December that called for the state to require all public employers to collect and retain injury and illness data, using the OSHA recordable criteria and form 300. In addition, the report recommended that the state's comp division expand its annual report to include a "state of the state" report covering all public entities. The report card, the task force said, would list each employer's workers' comp claim costs, injury totals, and injury incident rate per 100 employees and fatalities. The group also called for the state to provide a confidential toll-free number for public employers and employees to ask questions, report perceived unsafe working conditions, and request materials and assistance.
The bill now moves to the Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Policy Committee for review. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate. That bill, S. 1878, has been referred to committee but has not been brought up for a vote.
ASSE applauds legislation. The American Society of Safety Engineers was pleased with the initial passage of the bill.
"Public sector worker injuries are wasting our state's most valuable resource -- its workforce -- and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year," said Mark Friend, an ASSE member from Port Orange, Fla., who testified in front of the committee. "In 2007, according to the Florida Division of Workers' Compensation, 35 public sector employees were killed on the job and more than 60,000 submitted workers' compensation claims, resulting in benefits totaling more than a half a billion dollars. Medical costs alone exceeded $350 million."
Friend said an estimated 8.5 million public sector workers in 26 states and the District of Columbia do not receive the same workplace safety protections that all private sector workers are guaranteed by law. In Florida, that adds up to approximately 196,000 state government employees and 782,000 local government employees.
"When the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed by Congress in 1970, it assured every working man and woman in the U.S. safe and healthful working conditions," Friend said. "Unfortunately, the act did not go far enough in fulfilling that assurance. States that do not have their own federally approved occupational safety and health plans, like Florida, are not required to provide their state, county and municipal workers with such coverage."
May 11, 2009
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