The 2016 death of a Northfield Highway Department worker has led to the passage of bill aimed at improving workplace safety for New Hampshire’s public sector employees.
The bill, which passed the House last month and won unanimous support Thursday in the Senate, would require municipalities, school districts, state agencies and other public employers to report serious workplace injuries to the state Department of Labor within 24 hours and deaths within eight hours. The department also would be required to investigate the causes of deaths and when appropriate, recommend precautions that should be taken to avoid future harm.
“This bill by codifying requirements of the Department of Labor would create an additional level of reporting that might highlight the need for the department to follow up,” said Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester.
Relatives of Tom Wooten, a Belmont man who died after getting trapped between a tractor and the trailer it was hauling, watched Thursday’s vote from the gallery. His daughter, Samantha Wooten, told senators last week it’s unclear how and why the accident happened.
“I’m by no means an expert on workplace safety or protocols. However I would have thought that since this accident resulted in the untimely death of my dad that there would be an adequate investigation, and I was proven wrong,” she said at a public hearing on the bill. “That lack of investigation made me feel as though my father’s life didn’t mean as much as someone in the private sector where OSHA would’ve had jurisdiction.”
In New Hampshire, public workers are not subject to protections and oversight of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Rudy Ogden, deputy labor commissioner, told lawmakers at the same hearing the department supports the bill, but cautioned it won’t lead to the same level of investigation as federal officials would undertake.
“The department is trying to do better relative to safety. We do understand that certain individuals in the past have looked at our inspections and said they should have been more thorough,” he said. “I would note that we are not OSHA. We do not have the funding or the training.”
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