Mass. Considers State OSHA

April 13, 2006

Concerned that the current system to regulate safety at construction sites puts too much responsibility on the federal government, Massachusetts lawmakers are considering developing a plan that would transfer more power to the state.

The idea to take over workplace safety rules from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was discussed Tuesday at a legislative hearing that was prompted by last week’s scaffolding collapse in downtown Boston that killed three people.

Members of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security heard from state and city officials and industry leaders on ways to improve safety at work sites.

Senate chairman Jarrett Barrios, D-Cambridge, asked each panelist whether creating a state OSHA plan would improve oversight of work places, whose spot inspections are left to the federal agency. Critics say federal inspections are infrequent because of a lack of resources.

Twenty-six states have adopted their own workplace safety rules rather than rely on oversight by the federal OSHA, Barrios said. Federal law allows states to take over jurisdiction from OSHA, but Vermont is the only New England state that has done that. OSHA approves and monitors state plans and provides up to 50 percent of an approved plan’s operating costs.

States must set job safety and health standards that are “at least as effective as” comparable federal standards, an OSHA spokesman said.

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