September 2008, Vol. 20, No.9

OF Extra

Florida Passes Law Protecting Government Workers

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on June 10 signed into law a bill (HB 967) aimed at improving the safety of government workers. Lawmakers passed the bipartisan legislation sponsored by state Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R–Ormond Beach) and state Rep. Audrey Gibson (D–Jacksonville) this spring, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE; Des Plaines, Ill.), which championed the bill. The measure creates a 15-member task force that will make recommendations to determine how best to provide occupational safety and health coverage to Florida’s state, county, and municipal workers. The report must be submitted by Jan. 1.

Currently, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards apply to private-sector workers but not to Florida’s government employees. Florida is one of 26 states that do not require public employees to follow OSHA standards.

“Often overlooked is the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 applies only to private-sector workers and exempts the state and local government employees in states that do not operate their own state occupational safety and health plans,” said Edwin Granberry Jr., a Florida native and ASSE’s volunteer Region 4 vice president for government affairs. He helped lead member efforts to pass this legislation.

“We can’t wait to roll up our sleeves to help find a way to provide our state’s public servants the same coverage every other Floridian enjoys,” Granberry said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

The urgency for the legislation grew out of concerns for government worker safety following the 2006 explosion at the Bethune Wastewater Treatment Plant in Daytona Beach, Fla., that killed two city workers and severely injured another, an ASSE press statement said. The explosion occurred when the workers were using a cutting torch to remove a steel canopy from above a methanol-storage tank.

An investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) found that the cutting torch likely ignited methanol vapors from the tank and caused the explosion. The explosion led to the release of the total contents of the tank, approximately 3000 gal (11,355 L) of methanol.

CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes and inadequacies in safety management systems.

When CSB released its final report in March 2007, lead investigator Robert Hall said, “It is important for the State of Florida and the City of Daytona Beach to protect its employees from tragic accidents like this by promptly enacting new safety rules.”

In its final report, CSB concluded that the city’s safety programs were inadequate and that the City of Daytona Beach has no program at city facilities to control hot work, such as the use of cutting torches.

Countrywide, ASSE members are concerned that the estimated 8.5 million public-sector workers in 26 states and the District of Columbia currently do not receive the same federal level of workplace safety protections that all private-sector workers are guaranteed by law, an ASSE press release states. In Florida, it is estimated that there are 195,968 state government employees and 782,242 local government employees, ASSE said.

As for the Florida legislation, HB 967, the Florida governor, the state Senate president, and the state House of Representatives speaker will each appoint five members to the task force from a variety of interests, including safety, health and environmental professionals, business organizations, state government, academia, and related organizations.

The bill appropriates $100,000 to implement the Florida Public Task Force on Workplace Safety. The bill requires the task force to submit a report and recommendations to the governor, the chief financial officer, the president of the Senate, and the speaker of the House by Jan. 1.

The full record of the Florida legislation, including the text of the bill, is accessible at www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=38658&SessionId=57.

CSB’s report and recommendations are available at www.csb.gov/index.cfm?folder=completed_investigations&page=info&INV_ID=57.

Steve Spicer, Operations Forum