• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds Committee on Public Works and Transportation, U.S. House of Representatives
  • Speaker(s)
    Zeigler, David
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.
APRIL 22, 1993

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss H.R. 881, the "Ban on Smoking in Federal Buildings Act." First, let me say that the Administration generally supports your efforts to protect the health and safety of Federal workers. Those efforts are consistent with the mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which Congress charged in 1970 with the responsibility for assuring "so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions..."

As you know, the scientific and medical communities have long recognized the potential adverse health effects associated with smoking. Concern about the negative effects of smoking has increased in recent years, with scientific research turning to the potential risks that second-hand tobacco smoke poses to nonsmokers. A wide range of health effects caused by second-hand tobacco smoke has been reported by the Surgeon General, the National Research Council, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and private researchers. These effects include acute annoyance, eye and respiratory tract irritation, low birthweight, the development of chronic pulmonary diseases, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. In addition, NIOSH has determined that second-hand tobacco smoke is a potential occupational carcinogen and possible heart disease risk factor in nonsmoking workers, and both the Surgeon General, and EPA in its newly released report, have classified second-hand tobacco smoke as a known human (Group A) carcinogen.

Clearly, therefore, H.R. 881 addresses a serious health issue--one which OSHA also has under very active review. In order to place my comments on H.R. 881 in perspective, I would like to briefly discuss OSHA's statutory authority to prescribe and enforce workplace safety and health standards; the agency's role with regard to Federal employees' safety and health; and the agency's specific efforts to protect workers from the hazards of indoor air pollution, including second-hand tobacco smoke.

OSHA's Authority

First I will briefly explain OSHA's authority, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), to prescribe workplace standards to regulate employees' safety and health. Section 6(b) of the OSH Act charges OSHA with setting occupational safety and health standards when there is significant risk of injury or material impairment of health.

In order to show that a workplace condition poses a material impairment of health, OSHA relies on research and technical support from other agencies, such as NIOSH (OSHA's sister agency in the Department of Health and Human Services, created by the OSH Act to conduct research and training and make recommendations regarding occupational safety and health standards), EPA, and on the private sector. OSHA may begin a rulemaking when reliable technical information to support the rule comes to its attention or when petitioned by a party.

The occupational safety and health protections provided under the OSH Act extend to private sector employees at a virtually unlimited variety of worksites. The OSH Act also provides for the safeguarding of Federal employees' safety and health through a requirement that Federal agencies comply with standards consistent with those OSHA issues for private sector employers.

Federal Employee Safety and Health Protection

With regard to Federal employees' safety and health, section 19 of the OSH Act places responsibility for their protection with the head of each Federal Agency. Executive Order 12196, which has been in effect since February 1980, defines OSHA's role and the safety and health duties of the Executive departments and agencies. The Executive Order and OSHA's implementing regulations require each agency to operate an occupational safety and health program in accordance with the principles and basic program elements issued by OSHA. Although the agencies must operate a program in accordance with OSHA's requirements, they are permitted enough flexibility to implement their programs in a manner consistent with their size and respective missions.

Federal agencies must comply with all OSHA standards for the private sector unless OSHA approves alternate standards. The agencies are required to conduct inspections of their workplaces, at least annually, respond to employee reports of imminent danger or serious hazards, and assure that unsafe conditions are abated promptly. Each agency is also required to compile, maintain, and analyze statistics on occupational injuries and illnesses. A report on each agency's occupational safety and health program is submitted to OSHA each year.

The Executive Order also assigns a role to the General Services Administration (GSA), which provides workspace for more than one million Federal employees. As an element of GSA's property management responsibilities, the Executive Order requires GSA to assure prompt attention to reports of unsafe or unhealthful conditions in facilities subject to their authority.

OSHA's Responsibilities in the Federal Sector

OSHA is given a number of responsibilities under Executive Order 12196. The agency is required to provide oversight, leadership and assistance to all Federal agencies as they carry out their safety and health responsibilities, including assistance with training materials, technical services, and programs for information exchange. Evaluation of other agencies' safety and health programs, particularly those of larger agencies, is an important aspect of OSHA's oversight responsibility. OSHA is further required to submit to the President a summary report of the status of Federal agency safety and health each year.

As part of its oversight of Federal agencies' programs, OSHA conducts inspections in Federal agencies. In FY 1992, OSHA conducted more than 1,070 inspections in Federal agencies and found more than 4,200 violations. In the overwhelming majority of cases, we find that Federal agencies cooperate to abate workplace hazards expeditiously. In fact, Federal agencies fail to abate only 3 percent of all violations in a timely fashion.


I will now turn to a discussion of OSHA's initiatives to address the overall issue of indoor air quality. The agency's past efforts have focused on providing information and guidance to its field personnel to be used in the evaluation of indoor air quality conditions in the Nation's workplaces.

Technical Assistance and Consultation

OSHA also encourages safe and healthful working environments through a variety of methods in addition to the enforcement program. For instance, the agency's field offices provide technical assistance and offer a wide variety of written publications and other information on occupational safety and health to employers and employees. OSHA's consultation service provides assistance, either at the employer's establishment or off site, on all aspects of occupational safety and health. Consultants with expertise in occupational health are available to help employers find ways of eliminating hazards associated with indoor air contaminants.

Request For Information on Indoor Air Quality

While OSHA's past efforts to address indoor air quality problems have been somewhat limited, the agency recognizes the seriousness of the issue, and is now going beyond these initial efforts to review the need for rulemaking to address indoor air quality and second-hand tobacco smoke.

In 1987, OSHA received several petitions requesting an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for second-hand tobacco smoke. The statutory requirement which OSHA must meet to issue an ETS is greater than for a normal rulemaking, requiring a finding that employees are exposed to a "grave danger." OSHA denied the petitions for an ETS based on the agency's determination that data available at that time did not demonstrate the existence of a "grave danger" due to workplace exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, within the meaning of Section 6(c) of the OSH Act. Following the denial, one petitioner filed suit with the U.S Court of Appeals asking for a review of OSHA's decision. The court upheld OSHA's decision.

Our determination that there was not sufficient evidence for an ETS did not, however, mean that OSHA felt there was not a hazard. OSHA proceeded in September 1991 to publish a Request For Information (RFI) in the Federal Register to obtain information on indoor air conditions. The RFI covers such issues as health effects of contaminants, the operation of ventilation systems, building maintenance programs in use, and the hazards of specific contaminants such as second-hand tobacco smoke and radon. OSHA is currently reviewing more than 1,200 comments submitted in response to the request in order to determine the appropriateness and feasibility of an indoor air standard.

Key issues addressed in the public comments concern ventilation performance standards, worker training on the operation and maintenance of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, pollution source control, and technical guidance. The specific pollutants addressed in the comments include second-hand tobacco smoke, bioaerosols, carbon monoxide, and asbestos, among others.

Following the issuance of the RFI, OSHA received several more petitions requesting that the agency promulgate a comprehensive indoor air standard, and that it separate second-hand tobacco smoke from the larger indoor air quality issue, and again consider issuing an ETS.

The issues raised by these petitions are currently under active consideration.

Interagency Activities

OSHA is also working closely with many other agencies who have a role in various aspects of indoor air quality, including the Department of Health and Human Services, NIOSH, EPA, GSA and others. OSHA is a co-chair of the Interagency Committee on Indoor Air Quality, which coordinates the efforts of the Federal Government, and represents the Department of Labor on the Surgeon General's Interagency Committee on smoking.

As part of this interagency cooperation, EPA's recent report on "Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and other Disorders" has been included in the public docket for OSHA's RFI on indoor air quality. EPA's report classified second-hand tobacco smoke as a known human (Group A) carcinogen and concluded that it is responsible for approximately 3,000 excess lung cancer deaths a year in nonsmoking adults. Of these 3,000, EPA estimates that 2,200 are attributable to nonhome exposures (combined workplace and social settings). OSHA views this as a significant study which was developed using a credible methodology, and it will be considered by the agency, along with all other comments, in order to determine further agency action.

Comments on H.R. 881

With regard to H.R. 881, OSHA supports the objective of the bill, to protect Federal employees and the public from the hazards posed by second-hand tobacco smoke in Federal buildings. The overall intent of the legislation is consistent with OSHA's mission to assure safe and healthful working conditions.

Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your efforts to focus public discussion on this important issue. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify on H.R. 881. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.