NORMAN — Cleveland County commissioners signed an alliance with the Oklahoma Department of Labor on Monday to foster safer and healthier workplaces.
Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorn Houston said Cleveland County is the first to sign the agreement.
“I appreciate the Cleveland County commissioners for being proactive partners with the Department of Labor to improve workplace safety for their employees,” Houston said. “It’s an affirmative, proactive step to say ‘we care enough about our employees to partner with the Department of Labor.’”
Oklahoma is one of only seven states with jurisdiction over public sector workplace safety, rather than Federal OSHA.
“Oklahoma is a leader in protecting our public sector employees by continuing to decrease the number of workplace injuries and illnesses to well below the national average,” Houston said.
The Labor department’s Public Employee Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) Division provides free safety and health consultations to public sector employers. The program was modeled after the OSHA Consultation Program.
County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said he initially had some angst about the program, fearing it would put a target on the county, but after reaching out and confirming the alliance would be a proactive partnership focused on education, not penalties, he was happy to get on board.
Houston said the program uses consultations to teach best practices, thereby preventing workplace injury, rather than focusing on fines and enforcement.
As part of the alliance, the Labor Department and the county will work together to develop training and educational programs on workplace safety and worker rights and to develop communication tools to better inform employees on recognizing and preventing workplace hazards.
“I appreciate working with your staff,” County Commissioner Darry Stacy told Houston, who attended Monday’s county commission meeting to formally sign the agreement. “It was clear to me from the very beginning this is about the safety of our employees and the citizens of Cleveland County.”
Houston said public sector illnesses and injuries are down 47 percent over the last 16 years, and the public sector incidence rate in Oklahoma is 3.7 per 100 public sector workers, compared to the national average of 5.0 per 100 workers.
Houston pursued legislation last year so that the Labor Department does not keep fines based on workplace safety violations. That move ensures that fines are leveraged for safety, not for Labor Department revenue.
Signing the agreement with Cleveland County was particularly meaningful for Houston, a Norman resident. The city of Tulsa has also signed an alliance with the Labor Department, she said.
The Oklahoma Department of Labor provides oversight and regulation for key industries ensuring the public’s protection. For more, visit ok.gov/odol.