Changes to NH Public Employee Safety and Health Laws

The federal Occupational Safety & Health Act (“OSH Act”) does not apply to state employees.  In an effort to address this perceived “safety void,” House Bill 406 was passed.  This new law extends injury reporting and investigation requirements to public workers as of July 14, 2019.

The law sets out specific reporting requirements for public employers (meaning the state or any of its political subdivisions operating a place of employment) when serious injury or death occurs in the workplace or on the workplace premises.  Under the law, employers must report a workplace death within 8 hours to the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Labor, by telephone or electronically, stating the cause of death and place where the body of the deceased person was sent, and supplying any other relative information.  The Commissioner must then investigate the cause of death and may notify the employer of precautions to take to prevent the recurrence of similar events.  In instances of serious injury, employers must report the injury within 24 hours of the occurrence.  The Commissioner may, but is not required under the law, to then investigate the cause of the serious injury.  The law applies not only to state agencies, school districts, municipalities, and other public employers but also to volunteers or auxiliary members of a fire, police department, ambulance service and the state police, whether paid or not paid.

The legislation reportedly came about after the 2016 death of Tom Wooten, a worker for the Northfield Highway Department, who died after being trapped between a tractor and a trailer it was hauling.  The hazards at issue would have been covered by the OSH Act if Mr. Wooten had been working in the private sector.  Under the new law, the state Department of Labor will be required to investigate such a workplace death.  The law is one of several measures seen recently to expand federal protections for workers at the state level.

About the Author: Lindsay Nadeau

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