Harkins: Completion of OSHA workplace feasibility study ‘a step in the right direction’

ERIE, Jan. 13 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, issued the following statement in response to news that the state has completed a feasibility study on extending Occupational Safety and Health Act workplace standards to Pennsylvania’s public-sector workers.

“Today’s news is extremely encouraging, because it is a concrete step toward finally bringing Pennsylvania’s thousands of public-sector employees the protections they deserve.

“For decades, public-sector employees – from maintenance workers to mechanics to public transportation workers and so many others– have faced unnecessary risks on the job simply because the state does not require public employers to abide by the same OSHA safety standards as private companies.

“In many cases, public workers are doing the same kinds of jobs with the same dedication and the same expectations of safety. Yet for years, they have suffered unnecessary injuries because their job sites are not as safe.

“Jake Schwab – an Erie public transit mechanic – was one of those workers. Jake died because the equipment he needed was unavailable at his workplace, leading to a fatal explosion. In nearly a decade since his death, more public workers have died or been injured unnecessarily.

“While I am hopeful that completion of this study is a step in the right direction, I hope the state will move quickly to implement these critical protections, which I call for in my legislation, the Jake Schwab Worker Safety Bill.

“Many other states have already adopted OSHA standards for public workers. Pennsylvania’s public workers are no less deserving. It’s time for the state to do the right thing. With this first step completed, I’m urging the state to finish the job. While fiscal considerations are always important when considering changes to state law, there are times when those costs are far outweighed by the human costs – more lives lost and more empty seats at the dinner table.”

Harkins said the study – performed by Indiana University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the state Department of Labor and Industry and other state agencies – examined a five-year period from FY 16/17 to FY 20/21. It estimated the costs of adopting OSHA standards for commonwealth employees under the governor’s jurisdiction to be $54.8 million at baseline and $14.4 million for year one.

The study was ordered in October by Gov. Tom Wolf, who has repeatedly called on the legislature to pass Harkins' bill to make the OSHA safety rules applicable for all public-sector employees.