Worker Safety Group Says Gov. Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board Does Not Include a Single Worker, Provides its Own Recommendations

Jodi Sugerman-Brozan

BOSTON–On May 11, while Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito presented a reopening plan written primarily by Massachusetts business leaders, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released a series of workplace health and safety recommendations to reopen the economy crafted by nation-leading occupational health and safety experts (click here to view).

Of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s 17-member reopening advisory board, not a single representative of workers or expert in occupational health is included, MassCOSH said in a statement.

As the Baker-Polito Administration make decisions that will impact the health and lives of millions of workers and their families, MassCOSH hopes that worker safety standards developed by occupational health experts and labor leaders will be fully adopted.

The majority of Governor Baker’s reopening advisory board consists of business executives with titles like CEO and president. Notably absent are any industrial hygienists, occupational doctors, labor leaders, occupational safety lawyers, and other occupational health and safety experts who have a direct understanding of the health and safety protections that working people need.

Equally troubling is the fact that there is no specific, enforceable OSHA standard to protect workers from infection. Months into the pandemic, OSHA has yet to issue an emergency temporary standard for infectious disease prevention. It is MassCOSH’s opinion that OSHA is missing in action at the very time that workers so desperately need health and safety protections to be fully and legally enforced.

MassCOSH urges the Governor to strengthen his reopening plan by immediately issuing an Executive Order to create a statewide, enforceable SARS-CoV-2 health and safety standard. While Governor Baker’s reopening plan is a start, it will be ineffective without a detailed and rigorous plan for enforcement. Governors in states like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have already taken this action.

The six-page letter gives details on what should be included in the standards, building on Governor Baker’s initial plan by requiring that employers meet all CDC and OSHA guidelines on social distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection and sanitization, and handwashing. Importantly, this standard would require that every employer draft and distribute a written plan – with meaningful input by workers and guided by science – to identify and eliminate or reduce worker exposure to infectious disease hazards. Every company would be required to detail how it will address the three primary routes of virus transmission (large droplets from a cough or sneeze, aerosol micro-droplets, and virus particles collected on surfaces). The standards call for the protection of whistleblowers to protect and encourage workers’ ability to report hazardous conditions and non-compliance and a single, multilingual, hotline number to ensure that all workers, including those for whom English is not a first language, have a clear process for reporting dangerous conditions and receiving support and guidance.

Governor Baker stated that particular industries should not be reopened if they are “unexpectedly susceptible to spread.” In order to do this, Massachusetts needs a planned and detailed system of screening, testing, contact tracing, proper isolation and epidemiological surveillance. Recommended protocols are also outlined in MassCOSH’s letter to the Reopening Advisory Board.  MassCOSH has urged the Governor and the Massachusetts legislature to support bill SB2695/HB4672 An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment with an amendment to ensure that occupation and industry be added to the list of demographic data. Only by collecting occupation and industry data from COVID-19 cases will the state be able to assess which industries have high spread of SARS-CoV-2. The data collection would also include information on race and ethnicity to investigate the unequal burden of COVID-19 on communities of color.

Lt. Governor Polito has advised that workers who are showing COVID-19-like symptoms not go to work. In order to achieve this, MassCOSH is calling on the legislature to pass HD5039-An Act relative to emergency paid sick time, which would give those that work 40 hours a week to up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick time if they are not otherwise entitled to leave under the Federal FFCRA. MassCOSH is also calling for the passage of HB4627-An Act providing certain state employees sick leave for COVID-19 related absences to provide paid leave for the duration of a state employee’s COVID-19 related absence.

The recommendations that MassCOSH is advocating were prepared in consultation with the following public health and occupational health and safety experts and labor leaders (affiliations provided for identification only): Michael Felsen, former Regional Solicitor, U.S. Department of Labor, 2010-2018, MassCOSH Legal Committee; Lewis Pepper, MD, MPH, retired Occupational Doctor; Laura Punnett, Professor, University of Massachusetts – Lowell; Craig Slatin, Professor Emeritus, College of Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts –  Lowell, MassCOSH Health-Technical Committee; Emily A. Spieler, Edwin W. Hadley Professor of Law, Northeastern University; Gregory R. Wagner, M.D., Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Leslie I. Boden, PhD, Professor, Boston University School of Public Health; Richard Clapp, Health-Technical Committee; Letitia Davis, ScD, EdM; Nancy Lessin, MS, Occupational Health Specialist and Senior Staff, United Steelworkers-Tony Mazzocchi Center (retired); Katelyn Parady, MassCOSH Health-Technical Committee Co-Chair; Elise Pechter, MPH, CIH, MassCOSH Health-Technical Committee Co-Chair; Tolle Graham, MassCOSH (retired), USW 9358

“We have already seen thousands of essential workers get ill with COVID-19 because our failure to provide the proper protections,” said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, MassCOSH Executive Director. “Implementing these recommendations will save the lives of workers, their families, and members of their communities and the public.”

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