Monday, January 26, 2009

Protect Public Employees from Workplace Accidents

Across the country, millions of state and local public employees perform vital work for the American people. They are teachers, social workers, and corrections officers. And they are also the firefighters, police, and utility workers who protect public safety and respond to emergencies. But in 26 states, public employees are not covered by OSHA workplace standards. Without those protections and responsibilities, public employees face an undue risk of being killed, injured or sickened on the job. Just over three years ago – on January 11, 2006 – a serious explosion and fire occurred during maintenance work at a Florida wastewater treatment plant, operated by the city of Daytona Beach. The accident occurred as a crew of city workers, using a crane, attempted to remove a damaged metal roof above a storage tank containing 3,000 gallons of highly flammable methanol. They used a welding torch to cut up the roof. Sparks from the welding torch ignited methanol vapor coming from the tank. The flames flashed back into the tank, causing an explosion inside. A jet of fire engulfed the crane operator, who died of his injuries. The two workers who were above the tank were severely burned. One was found dead at the scene. If the same maintenance project had been done by employees of the private sector, OSHA’s hot work standard would have required precautions to control welding hazards. And OSHA’s hazard communication standard would have required the workers to be informed of the dangers of methanol. Following our investigation, the Chemical Safety Board recommended that Florida require all state agencies, counties, and cities to follow OSHA standards.
That was in 2007. Several weeks ago, a state task force in Florida completed a thorough review of the issue and concurred that the state should require OSHA compliance for all public employees within three years. I commend the task force for its work, and I encourage Governor Crist and the Florida legislature to promptly enact its recommendations. Furthermore, the accident in Florida should serve as a cautionary tale to the 25 other states that are in the same situation. Our public employees are simply too vital an asset to risk their being killed, injured, or disabled in preventable workplace accidents.

1 comment:

  1. Chairman Bresland should make that recomendation to ALL Govenors in the 26 States who are not covered by OSHA