Government & OSHA Safety

by Will Charpentier
State occupational safety and health plans cover public-sector workers.

State occupational safety and health plans cover public-sector workers.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal promoter, advocate and enforcer of safety in the workplace; however, OSHA’s programs, rules and regulations only apply to the private sector. While OSHA doesn’t cover public-sector employers, those who work for state and local governments, 22 states have their own safety programs and rules. These state-level programs are similar to and approved by their federal counterpart.

Who's Covered by State Programs

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 encourages, but doesn’t require, states to create their own occupational safety and health programs. In most states with a state-level OSH program, the programs cover both private- and public-sector employees. In four states and one territory -- the U.S. Virgin Islands, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and Connecticut -- the program covers only public-sector employees. The law requires state standards at least as effective as those found in the federal program.

What State Plans Do

The state OSH plans offer public-sector employees the same coverage that the federal program offers to the private sector. If an employee finds a safety hazard in the workplace, the employee reports the issue to the state’s OSH inspectors, rather than to the federal inspectors. The state offices conduct inspections within the workplace and operate safety training programs for public-sector employers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, many work directly with public-sector employers in a manner similar to the U.S. OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program. These programs allow public employers to mitigate workplace hazards before public employees become accident statistics.

States With State OSH Plans

Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah have state occupational safety and health programs, as do Arizona, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont. These plans cover both state and local government employees. California, Kentucky, New Mexico, Connecticut and Maryland also have OSH programs. New Jersey, South Carolina, Virginia and Hawaii have similar programs that provide guidance to state and local officials and employees. Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Washington, Illinois and Wyoming have plans that cover most, if not all, state and local public-sector employees. Although not states -- Puerto Rico is a territory and the U.S. Virgin Islands are a possession of the U.S. -- both have similar plans for their public employees, approved by the federal administration.

How State Plans Work

When U.S. OSHA approves a state-level OSH plan, it steps back and lets the state plan take over the OSH program for the state, except in states where the program covers only public-sector employees. The U.S. program may fund up to 50 percent of the state program. Ideally, the federal program saves money and resources when a state starts its own OSH program, but U.S. OSHA doesn’t say “You’re approved” and step back. Anyone who who discovers the state’s system is inadequate or incompetent can file a complaint with the U.S. OSHA regional administrator. The federal agency then investigates and takes appropriate action to ensure the system works as it should.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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