The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to approve a new Illinois state public employee protection plan. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 at 29 CFR Part 1956 allows states and territories to establish plans covering only state and local government employees, who are excluded from federal coverage. Once a state plan is approved federal OSHA funds up to 50% of the program's operating costs. To be eligible for initial (developmental) approval as a public employee-only state plan, a state must be able to operate an occupational safety and health program that is, or will be, at least as effective as the federal program. Illinois has applied for approval to develop a public employee-only occupational safety and health program to be administered by the Illinois Department of Labor. The Federal Register notice provides a 30-day comment period and offers an opportunity to request an informal public hearing. If the plan is approved, Illinois will become the fourth state, along with Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, and the Virgin Islands to operate a safety and health program specifically for public employees. An additional 21 states and Puerto Rico have programs covering both public and private sector workplaces. "The Illinois Department of Labor is to be commended for taking this step forward to provide protection for its public sector workers," said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. "This should serve as a model for other states interested in maintaining the safety and health of their public workforces." The plan, if approved, will cover more than 1 million public workers, including approximately 161,200 state government workers and roughly 690,000 municipal workers, and workers in the public education sector. Private sector workers will remain under the jurisdiction of federal OSHA. Author: Robert Elliott, J.D.
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