March 4, 2021 Labor and Public Employees Cmte, HB 6447
Public Hearing Testimony of
Kurt Westby, Commissioner
Department of Labor
Labor and Public Employees Committee
March 4, 2021
Good Morning Senator Kushner, Representative Porter, Senator Sampson, Representative Arora and members of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with testimony regarding House Bill 6447, AN ACT CONCERNING VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENTS AND AMBULANCE COMPANIES AND THE DEFINITION OF EMPLOYER UNDER THE STATE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT. My name is Kurt Westby, and I am the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor (CT DOL).
The CT DOL supports the proposed bill. DOL’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CONN-OSHA) enforces state occupational safety and health regulations as they apply to state and municipal employees. The proposed bill clarifies CONN-OSHA’s jurisdiction over volunteer fire departments and volunteer ambulance companies in the wake of the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in Mayfield v. Goshen Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., 301 Conn. 739 (2011).
Historically, CONN-OSHA has considered all fire departments, including volunteer fire departments, under its jurisdiction pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("Act"). In 2008, a volunteer fire department challenged this authority, and in 2011, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that this particular volunteer fire department, though not necessarily all volunteer fire departments, was not covered by the Act. This bill seeks to amend the definition of "employer" under the Act to ensure coverage of all Connecticut volunteer fire departments and volunteer ambulance departments by CONN-OSHA.
Generally, Federal OSHA has determined that it does not have jurisdiction over volunteer fire departments or volunteer ambulance companies because of their affiliation with municipalities and Federal OSHA’s jurisdiction is limited to private entities. At the same time, CONN-OSHA does not have jurisdiction over volunteer fire departments or volunteer ambulance companies because of the determination that there is no employer/employee relationship connection.
In the past six years, there were approximately 25 complaints regarding volunteer fire departments filed with CONN-OSHA. Of those, 13 were inspected with a total of 44 violations issued, all of which were corrected. While most complaints were made to prevent harm from happening, some were due to injuries (burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc.). Four complaints were not inspected due to lack of jurisdiction or validity issues. There were three complaints from the same department, of which two were discontinued because they emanated from the same issue that prompted the Goshen case.
Without this legislation, certain volunteer fire departments and volunteer ambulance companies will not be held accountable under either state or federal law. This bill is critical to the safety and health of our first responders because it will allow CONN-OSHA to protect all of our volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers as we do our career men and women.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony. I am available to answer any questions you may have.
Connecticut Department of Labor • www.ct.gov/dol
An Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer