Bill to Protect Public Workers

June 12, 2019

Public sector employees in Pennsylvania are not covered by federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace safety regulations. A new bill, prompted by the recent increase in fatal workplace accidents, would implement state standards equivalent to the existing federal ones that govern private employers. The bill would impact 577,000 Pennsylvania public sector workers who currently have no workplace safety oversight and whose employers are not subject to reporting requirements.

Workplace Safety Protections

Most private sector employees are protected by the workplace health and safety standards set forth in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Under the general duty clause of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, private workers are entitled to safe and healthful workplaces, free from known hazards. Public workers, however, are not entitled to the same protections.

So far, 22 states have adopted OSHA-approved workplace safety and health programs that cover private and public sector workers and six have adopted State Plans covering both private sector and government employees. Pennsylvania does not currently have such coverage for state and local government workers and therefore employers are often beyond reproach for federal violations.

The Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill (Jake’s Law)

Officials from the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor conference announced their support of legislation that would implement pubic workplace safety standards in Pennsylvania. There were 172 worker deaths and 132,500 injuries in 2017, according to the AFL – numbers that do not include public sector workers because government employers are not subject to the same reporting requirements as private sector employers.

Jake’s Law would impose federal standards at the state level, leaving states the option to pass stricter standards. Employers found to be in violation of the standards would be subject to fines of up to $20,000 and for supervisors, up to a year in prison.

Will Increased Oversight Improve Worker Safety?

The executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania testified that, in his opinion, the regulatory requirements and fines would not improve worker safety as intended. Opponents of the bill also dread the costly upgrades and replacements that may be necessary to bring companies into compliance.

However, the bill’s supporters highlight the importance of employee safety by referencing a 2014 incident involving an Erie worker, Jake Schwab, after whom the bill was named. Schwab was fatally injured while repairing an airbag for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a public sector employer. The cause of, and details surrounding, the accident were difficult to pinpoint because the public sector employer was not subject to OSHA regulations.

Jake’s Law would impose mandatory reporting requirements and extend OSHA workplace safety protections to public sector employees like Schwab. With 27 co-sponsors, the bill now goes before the House Labor & Industry Committee for review.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Advocate for All Types of Pennsylvania Workers

If you were injured in a workplace accident, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. You may be entitled to benefits including medical expense and lost wage compensation. Our experienced attorneys have over 35 years of experience representing all types of workers in Philadelphia and throughout the state. For a free consultation, call 888-PITT-LAW today or contact us online.

We proudly represent injured workers in Berks CountyBucks CountyChester CountyDelaware CountyMontgomery CountyPhiladelphia County and throughout Pennsylvania, including those in the communities of AbingtonAmblerArdmoreBala CynwydBensalemClifton HeightsCrum Lynne, DarbyDowningtownDoylestownDrexel HillEssington, FolcroftGlenoldenHaverfordHavertownHolmesKutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion StationMorton, Narberth, Norristown, NorwoodPhiladelphiaProspect Park, QuakertownReadingRoxboroughSharon HillUpper Darby, West Chester and Wynnewood.