Harkins bill would set safety rules for public employers

Legislation prompted by death of Erie worker

HARRISBURG, April 28 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, held a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda this morning to introduce legislation he authored in direct response to the workplace accident and death of a Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority employee last fall.

H.B. 1082, the Jake Schwab Worker's Safety Bill, was introduced in memory of Erie resident Jake Schwab, a mechanic with EMTA who lost his life due to a workplace incident in November. As a public transit authority, EMTA is exempted from OSHA regulations, so the details regarding the incident and any safety concerns that would have been raised through an OSHA review have been hard to track.

"Under my bill, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry would have the authority to perform workplace safety inspections and levy fines," Harkins said. "Because this accident was with a public transit authority, a private insurance company handled the investigation and the records are private."

The Harkins bill would provide on-the-job safety protection to public employees by establishing Occupational Safety and Health Administration-equivalent safety rules for public employers, including the commonwealth, all legal political subdivisions, public schools, transit systems and any nonprofit organizations currently exempt from the OSHA standards.

Schwab's widow, Tiffany, expressed her family's support for the legislation, saying," Don't you expect your loved ones to come home from work, just like I did?"

"We believe that if this law had been in place last year, this tragedy would not have happened," said John Renwick, president, Local 568, Amalgamated Transit Union, Erie. "Unfortunately, Jake's story is not a new one."

"Last year alone, 178 Pennsylvania workers lost their lives due to workplace injuries or illness," said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL/CIO. "Nobody should die trying to make a living."

The bill is expected to be referred to a committee for further review and consideration.