VIOLATION DISCLOSURE COULD SAVE WORKERS' LIVES, BILL BACKERS TESTIFY
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 23, 2017.....A year and two days after Kelvin Mattocks and Robert Higgins died working in a trench on Dartmouth Street in Boston, their families came to the State House to call on lawmakers to take action to protect other workers in the state.
"That was the worst day of our lives. This has been the worst year of our lives. It could have been prevented," Melinda Mattocks-Ushry, Kelvin Mattocks' sister, said. "We stand here today honoring him and Mr. Higgins because they went out to do an honest day of work to take care of their families and they didn't come home."
The company for which Mattocks and Higgins worked, Atlantic Drain Service, had a lengthy history of willful health and safety violations, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety (MassCOSH), including citations for conditions that could lead to trench cave-ins. Such a cave-in factored in the workers' deaths after a water main burst.
Deceased workers were remembered on a quilt at Workers' Memorial Day in April on the State House steps. [Photo: Sam Doran/File/SHNS]
MassCOSH and the Mattocks and Higgins families pushed Monday for action on a bill (H 3633) that would require contractors vying for state contracts to disclose health and safety violations they've incurred over the last four years as part of their bid package.
"This means the contractor, the subcontractor -- any company involved in that work," Rep. Byron Rushing, the bill's sponsor, said. "This is a commonsense protection that will protect workers and level the playing field for the vast majority of contractors who don't cut corners, who do have their workers work safely. They should not be able to be underbid by irresponsibility."
MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan said 52 workers have died either on the job or from workplace-related injuries in Massachusetts already this year. Last year's 70 occupational deaths was a 10-year high, she said.
She said she has "no doubt" that Rushing's bill will save lives, and said it will be a benefit to contractors who play by the rules and make sure their workers are safe.
While MassCOSH is pursuing Rushing's bill to keep workers safe, the organization is also backing legislation to hold companies more accountable.
The group this session has been pushing for the Legislature to adjust the penalty for corporate manslaughter -- a fine that has not changed since before Maine voted to secede from Massachusetts. Prosecutors have charged Atlantic Drain Service with corporate manslaughter in connection with the deaths of Mattocks and Higgins.
The fine for corporate manslaughter has been $1,000 since 1819, though the Legislature unanimously agreed to increase it in 2013. The House and Senate both approved legislation upping the fine -- the House set a maximum fine of $250,000 while the Senate made $250,000 the minimum penalty, the News Service reported at the time -- but even though every voting member of the Legislature went on record supporting the increase, no compromise was ever struck and the fine never changed.
The fine for corporate manslaughter would be increased to $250,000 in the criminal justice bill released by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
On Wednesday, the House will take up a bill (H 3952) to require all public sector employees in Massachusetts be protected under standards no less stringent than those provided under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Sugerman-Brozan said she is keeping her fingers crossed that the bill, which already has cleared the Senate, will pass in the House. She said it would expand OSHA protections to all public sector workers and 420,000 additional workers would enjoy the protections that OSHA administers.
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