On May 2, 2023, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 299, which aims to extend OSHA safety protections to the public sector. Upon passage in the state Senate, HB 299 will enforce drastic changes for which public employers and public employees should prepare. KingSpry’s Employment Law Attorney Avery E. Smith emphasizes what the Public Sector needs to know, should HB 299 become law.
Public Sector Protections
In his proposal, House Representative Patrick J. Harkins emphasized that private sector workers have more workplace protections than public employees in Pennsylvania, i.e., police officers, firemen, corrections officers, road maintenance workers, and others. While a majority of private sector employees are protected under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), public sector employees are not.
The introduction of HB 299 follows the fatal work injury of Erie resident, Jack Schwab, a mechanic with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority. Mr. Schwab did not work under the protection of OSHA regulations at the time of his death, as the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority is a public sector employer that is exempt from OSHA regulations. The details of the incident and safety concerns that would have been raised through an OSHA review have been difficult to ascertain, due to the employer’s exemption.
Focus of HB 299
To merge the gap of workers’ protection in the private and public sectors, HB 299 aims to extend OSHA protections to public sector workers in Pennsylvania. The Bill’s major foci are to:
- 1. Provide for workplace health and safety standards for public employees;
- 2. Provide for powers and duties of the Secretary of Labor and Industry;
- 3. Establish the Pennsylvania Occupational Safety and Health Review Board;
- 4. Provide for workplace inspections; and
- 5. Impose penalties for violations of occupational safety and health review standards.
What is a Public Employer?
A “public employer” is defined as “the Commonwealth, any of its political subdivisions, including a school district and any office, board, commission, agency, authority, local transportation organization or other instrumentality thereof, any nonprofit organization or institution and any charitable, religious, scientific, literary, recreational, health, educational or welfare institution receiving grants or appropriations from Federal, State or local government.”
Who is a Public Employee?
Impact on Public Employers
Should HB 299 pass, all public employers under the act must follow occupational safety and health standards promulgated under its provisions. Public employers should anticipate compliance with the following standards, among others:
- 1. Freedom from Hazards: Public employers shall ensure each employee and place of employment are free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. This requires public employers to provide “reasonable” and “adequate” protection to the lives, safety or health of its employees.
- 2. Compliance with the Act: Public employers will be required to comply with all OSHA standards promulgated under HB 299.
- 3. Written Statements of Substances: Public employers, upon the written request of an employee, must provide a written statement listing the substances that the employee uses or with which the employee comes into contact that have been identified as toxic or hazardous by OSHA and/or accessible for inspection and duplication in accordance with the Right-to-Know Law.”
Impact on Public Employees
Should HB 299 become law, all employees will be afforded the basic right to work in an environment that is “free from hazards and risks to their safety”. It is the legislature’s intent that this right be afforded to employees of the Commonwealth, its counties, cities, towns, boroughs and townships and other public employers who serve the people of this Commonwealth.
It will be the responsibility of the Secretary to ensure that all public employees are afforded the same safeguards in their workplace as are granted to employees in the private sector. Public employees can anticipate the Secretary to provide methods of encouragement in regard to efforts to reduce the number of safety and health hazards arising from undesirable or inappropriate working conditions at the workplace.
Overall, if HB 299 becomes law, public employees can expect to receive appropriate access to reporting, inspection, programs, and standards in an effort to increase their health and physical safety at work.
What does the Future Hold?
HB 299 received a favorable vote in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, passing 116-85. The Bill is now introduced to the state Senate for consideration. Due to significant margins of support, it is likely HB 299 will pass and become law, altering the standards for public employers and increasing protections of public employees.
Should you have any questions regarding the potential impact of House Bill No. 299, KingSpry’s Employment Law Group is prepared to assist you.
 House Bill No. 299, Section 3.
 House Bill No. 299, Section 3.
 House Bill No. 299, Section 2(1).
 House Bill No. 299, Section 2(4).
 House Bill No. 299, Section 6(2).