NELSON: Democrats’ Worker Safety Effort Is Not Ready for Primetime
As a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), I have dedicated nearly all my career to helping protect people, property, and the environment. I sincerely believe all workers deserve to be safe from bodily injury or harm in the workplace.
Unfortunately, legislation being pushed by public sector unions and their allies in the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus seeks to mandate public sector OSHA is an incomplete work that puts special interests over the best interests of Pennsylvania.
Their bill expands government and increases Harrisburg’s power over counties, townships, municipalities, and more, including the authority to levy fines and penalties on your community. That means higher property taxes from another unfunded mandate from Harrisburg.
Currently, without any legal requirement, state and local public employers provide significant safety measures for workers. Additionally, they ensure workers are protected from financial loss through workers’ compensation programs.
Before any legislation is passed, Pennsylvania should first answer one very basic question: Are public sector employees getting injured or killed at higher rates than their private sector counterparts? After multiple Labor and Industry hearings and a review by Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Safety Sciences, the answer is we do not know. The state does not have the data to compare with general industry.
Again, I believe workers need to be protected from injury and loss in the workplace. It is the right thing to do; however, the House Democrats’ proposal is not supported by data and is opposed by nearly every non-partisan organization representing the interests of local governments and school districts because of its likelihood to increase taxes on Pennsylvanians to support its implementation.
The fact that data do not support this legislation is important.
While there are horrific and avoidable stories of public sector workers being seriously injured on the job, Pennsylvanians should expect more than anecdotal evidence before their government implements a multi-million-dollar program.
We heard as much from the bipartisan County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, which testified in opposition to the implementation of unsupported public sector OSHA requirements at a hearing I held last session as chairman of the Workers Compensation and Worker Protection Subcommittee of the House Labor and Industry Committee.
They said, “Another critical concern for counties is that applying OSHA to counties would be very costly when compared to any potential benefit, both for counties and for the Commonwealth. Specifically with such proposals, we question the need for the legislation in the absence of statistics establishing that there is a worker safety problem in local government.”
That leads to a second and critical, component about why we should exercise extreme caution when looking to implement such stringent public workplace safety measures: the cost.
While IUP just this year has completed a cost feasibility study, the report has not yet been made public. Even at recent state budget hearings, the state Department of Labor and Industry leaders declined to share details about the report.
However, we do know that there will be costs for the Department of Labor and Industry to implement and enforce the new safety regime – on top of the costs to municipalities and school districts for safety inspectors, compliance officers, and fines and costs associated with worker safety above and beyond what is already provided in the Workers Compensation programs offered by government employers.
Under this public sector OSHA proposal being pushed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, no local government will be exempted from its requirements.
From school districts to boroughs and townships, every public sector employer would have to comply with these standards and will be subject to its penalties.
Fortunately, we are not without a path forward that balances the need for worker safety with the lack of empirical data necessary to support the advance of such a large undertaking.
This spring, I introduced House Bill 959, legislation developed with Republican and Democratic colleagues to collect and analyze public sector injury data. This responsible approach will enable Pennsylvania to learn how our workers are getting injured and prioritize focused improvements.
My bipartisan proposal reflects the results of what we heard in public testimony, coupled with stakeholder input, and would collect data from public employers to make an apples-to-apples comparison with the private sector on workplace injuries.
Indeed, it is irresponsible to mandate millions of taxpayer dollars for a program before we have the facts. Requiring thousands of pages of OSHA requirements developed over the last fifty years to apply to public employers will drown our local governments in paperwork and cannibalize limited resources from the areas that may need it the most.
We want a safer Pennsylvania, not a political win for special interest groups.
The so-called public sector OSHA proposal before the Pennsylvania House to enhance public sector safety mandates is an unworkable behemoth that is unsupported by empirical data and will lead to tax increases. Using a data-driven size and scope, we should choose a better path to prioritize worker safety.