Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, January 2020

Members of the BCR Pilot Group meet on Dec. 17 at Provincetown Town Hall as part of their continuing discussions to improve safety for public works departments.

As workplace safety standards evolve for municipalities, several Cape Cod towns have joined forces to help protect their public works employees from injuries and to create a framework for assessing and minimizing risks.

In 2018, several Cape communities formed the Barnstable County Roundtable, a group dedicated to addressing safety issues for public works and utility workers. In early 2019, the roundtable formed a more targeted group, the BCR Pilot Group, to focus specifically on issues facing public works departments. The group includes Yarmouth, Mashpee, Harwich, Brewster, Provincetown, Dennis, Barnstable, Orleans and Chatham.

Their increased efforts came as municipalities face added responsibilities related to standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In March 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law extending OSHA workplace safety standards to all state and local government workers. The state Department of Labor Standards enforces the law, which went into effect last Feb. 1.

The new law has forced local governments and public agencies to play catchup with the private sector, which for much longer has faced OSHA penalties for accidents and noncompliance. The Barnstable County group allows communities to share ideas and encourages them to integrate safety into their DPW operations in a way that hadn’t happened previously, said Paul Anderson, Brewster’s water superintendent.

“I think there was a lack of training, and a lack of knowledge,” Anderson said. “By gaining that now, we are able to make communities a lot safer.”

Now a year old, the pilot group examines needed resources, barriers to implementation of safety standards, challenges affecting administration and workers, and cultural impediments to change, according to Marina Brock, a former longtime employee and now a contractor with the Barnstable County Health and Environmental Department, and an assistant professor of emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Brock, who leads the safety group, said municipalities and DPW workers face numerous challenges, including a lack of money budgeted for safety, mismatched assumptions between labor and management, training that doesn’t get reinforced on the job, the purchase of low-bid equipment that doesn’t fit what’s needed on-site, and the lack of platforms for information sharing.

Except for Barnstable, which has its own DPW safety officer, the member towns have been required to form their own public works safety committees. The town of Dennis, which had reactivated its own safety committee about seven years ago, has served as a model for the work that the group is doing.

Tom Sisson, the facilities manager in Dennis, said the town’s safety committee consists of two managers and three line staff workers. When the committee was first re-established, Sisson said, he hadn’t imagined that other communities would emulate it. But now, Dennis officials have lessons they can share with their neighbors.

“We wanted to teach them the building blocks for creating a functioning, sustainable safety committee,” Sisson said. “That’s what we’ve started, and it’s worked out quite well.”

The 35-person group has also tackled several other assignments, including lockout/tagout policies (shutting off energy sources before working on equipment); collecting and organizing owner’s manuals from equipment manufacturers; creating policies for dealing with broken or unsafe tools and equipment; and developing job hazard analyses and converting them into standard operating procedures.

In addition to the knowledge and support that they’re receiving from the collaboration, the Cape Cod officials also credit the additional OSHA training received through MIIA. To help its membership comply with the new safety law, MIIA has continued its partnership with the OSHA Training Institute Education Center at Keene State College to offer an OSHA Public Sector Safety and Health Certification Program. Currently, MIIA is sponsoring training for 28 members.

For more about the Barnstable County Roundtable, contact Marina Brock at 774-212-4059.

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