A bill is now heading to the state Senate that would affect every Pennsylvania public works department and its compliance with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations. A proposed bill inspired by the death of an Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA) worker passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently. The measure, House Bill 299, calls for OSHA safety protections to apply to public sector workers, not just private sector workers. It comes after the death of Jake Schwab, an EMTA worker who was killed when a bus he was repairing fell on him. Currently, OSHA doesn’t regulate municipal operations.
OSHA is a federal agency under the United States Department of Labor that sets and enforces safety and health standards to protect workers. While OSHA is a federal agency, individual states can also have their own OSHA-approved state plans, which allow them to administer their own occupational safety and health programs. Pennsylvania is one of the states that has an OSHA-approved state plan. The Pennsylvania OSHA program, officially known as the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry's Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety (BOIS), operates under a plan approved by federal OSHA. The Pennsylvania BOIS is responsible for ensuring the safety and health of workers in the state, including those in public works. Public works projects, such as construction, maintenance, and repairs of public infrastructure, are subject to OSHA regulations and standards to protect workers from hazards in the workplace.
Some of the critical areas that OSHA regulations cover include:
Fall protection: OSHA requires measures to protect workers from falls, such as using guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems when working at heights. Municipalities will need to review operations closely to ensure they are in compliance with these requirements, as mistakes could be far more costly than the initial investment in equipment.
Hazard communication: OSHA mandates that employers provide information about hazardous substances present in the workplace and train employees on how to handle them safely. A central point person to oversee this may be the best avenue, but good documentation is the key to staying in compliance with this portion.
Personal protective equipment (PPE): OSHA requires employers to assess hazards in the workplace and provide appropriate PPE, such as hard hats, gloves, eye protection, and respiratory protection, to workers. Although one might think this is nothing more than common sense, ensuring that employees are abiding by the need to protect themselves, it takes everyone to keep an eye on each other and ensure a safe workplace.
Excavations and trenching: OSHA has specific regulations for the safety of workers involved in excavation and trenching activities, including proper protective systems, cave-in prevention, and inspections. Proper trenching, etc., is one of the most disregarded set of rules that I have witnessed in the public works sector. It is critical that every municipality – including smaller ones – understand proper excavation and trenching practices and adhere to the safety regulations.
Electrical safety: OSHA provides standards for electrical safety, including proper wiring, grounding, and protection against electrical hazards. It is not unusual for a smaller municipality to have a self-proclaimed electrician. Sure, we all want to save taxpayers some money if we can DIY, but when dealing with the high-tech electrical systems of today, it is best left to those who are certified.
It's essential for Pennsylvania public works projects to comply with OSHA regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of their workers. Compliance may involve implementing safety programs, providing training, conducting inspections, and addressing any identified hazards. All of this will take money, but with proper documentation and a commitment to safety, we all stand to benefit in the long run.
For specific information about OSHA regulations and compliance requirements in Pennsylvania, it is advisable to consult the official website of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry's Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety (BOIS) or contact them directly for the most up-to-date and accurate information. With new rules and regulations on the horizon, we need to plan ahead and make the appropriate changes in advance to be prepared. So, it is time to “fire this thing up,” but make sure you have your protective gear on.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.