Hazards found in the municipal environment are possibly the most varied found in any workplace with the exception of the military. Where else can your employees face chemical spills and fire along with trench and confined space rescue, as well as people fighting and/or others shooting at them, or having to work in or near streets and highways? Couple those and other hazards like flying golf balls while mowing, angry dogs not on a leash, and driving large trucks in the very worst of weather (snow plowing) and you are starting to address the breadth of municipal public sector safety and health issues. Now place those hazards in a highly public and political environment, add in a mix of union activism or indifference, then try to manage it all with zero based budgeting or worse (revenues shrink when taxable base decreases) and the path for a failing safety program is struck.
As a consultant, I expect a varied list of clients but presenting many similar problems and employees facing similar hazards and risks. When I was asked by Ed Bonaccorso, CSP, Loss Control Manager for PERMA (Public Employer Risk Management Association, Inc.) if I would be interested in working with a municipality, I said sure. I had worked with two major town governments back in the 70s. At that time, as an insurance loss control representative, I worked through or with the town supervisor to improve employee safety and reduce losses for all underwritten coverages. What could be so difficult? I found out that things have changed a lot in thirty plus years.
I was told I would be working with the City of Niagara Falls, New York. Further information indicated that the new Mayor Vincenzo Anello had appointed a Risk Manager whom I would work through in their efforts to reduce workers' compensation claims and costs. It all kicked off with a meeting of Department Heads, the Mayor, City Manager Dan Bristol, and several union representatives. Everything started off on a positive note with hope that an employee safety program would return.
I was quite optimistic about the new challenge of rebuilding a safety program and the seemingly open cooperation between "union and management". I was about to begin a long lesson, still ongoing today, about current day politics and union positioning.
OSHA does not cover Public Sector jobs with some exceptions. In New York State, most city and county employees are covered through PESH (Public Employee Safety and Health) programs formed under 29 CFR 1956 or under State Plan State programs. For example, 29 CFR 1956 Subpart F is specific to New York in providing coverage to Public Sector employees. What is generally done is to adopt the Federal Safety and Health Standards and apply them to the political subdivisions within the state. It is a continual challenge to find the appropriate standard or regulation that will apply to a specific hazard.