House passes Harkins bill to bring OSHA safety protections to public workers

HARRISBURG, May 2 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, issued the following statement in response to the House’s passage of his H.B. 299, which would extend OSHA protections to Pennsylvania’s public sector workers.

“Today, the House took a critical step toward better protecting hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania workers.

“For nearly a decade, I have been fighting to fix a fundamental flaw in our state’s workplace safety laws. Simply put, our public-sector employees – from maintenance, sanitation and transit workers to mechanics, construction workers and school workers – are not guaranteed the same safety protections as employees of private companies.

“That’s because Pennsylvania – unlike many other states in the nation – does not require public employers to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

“The act mandates that worksites be safely equipped, that workers be thoroughly trained and that any incidents be reported and fully investigated. There’s clear evidence that having those protections in place can reduce the incidence of fatalities and serious injuries.

“Our failure to adopt a state OSHA plan has led to absurd situations in which two workers performing the same job on different sides of the same highway or on different ends of the same scaffold are not equally safe – based simply on whether they work for a public or private employer. More importantly, the failure to implement these basic protections has claimed lives, including the life of Erie public transit mechanic Jake Schwab, who was fatally crushed by a bus because the garage where he worked lacked the proper lift equipment.

“Today, with House passage of my bill, we are on the way to making life safer for our public workers and preventing needless deaths like Jake’s. I will be urging my colleagues in the state Senate to support this bill, and I will not stop fighting until it reaches the governor’s desk. It’s time we gave our public workers the protections they need and deserve.”

The bill passed 116-85 and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.