CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state's Public Workers Union supports legislation that would include employees of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the Division of Corrections under the state's Occupational Health and Safety Act.
DHHR and DOC employees are currently excluded from coverage under West Virginia OSHA inspections.
Delegate Peggy Donaldson Smith, D-Weston, is the lead sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, which was introduced Friday in the House of Delegates. The bill has 10 other co-sponsors.
Jamie Beaton, chief steward for UE Local 170 at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital near Weston, said, "All West Virginia public employees, including employees at DHHR and DOC, need to know that when they go to work, their safety and health is of paramount importance to the state of West Virginia."
Beaton is a health service assistant at Sharpe Hospital.
During the past year, Sharpe Hospital employees filed numerous complaints with the West Virginia Division of Labor (DOL) over unsafe working conditions, including a large number of employee injuries from attacks by patients at Sharpe.
The DOL, which oversees enforcement of the state's OSHA laws and regulations, has not investigated those complaints.
Sharpe is one of two state-run psychiatric hospitals in West Virginia, which is operated under the DHHR, which has over 6,000 employees, making it the largest state agency.
Because the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act only covers private-sector workers, West Virginia state employees are not protected by that legislation.
Donna Morgan, president of UE Local 170, said, "It is imperative that state employees be afforded the protection of WV OSHA. Workers' safety should be priority Number One for the state, and without WV OSHA there is no oversight.