• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate
  • Speaker(s)
    Zettler, H. Berrien
  • 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


JUNE 29, 1994

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am H. Berrien Zettler, Deputy Director of Compliance Programs for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the occupational safety and health requirements that would apply to the Legislative branch if it were covered by OSHA.

I will begin by describing OSHA's overall responsibility for workplace safety and health. OSHA was established pursuant to the OSH Act of 1970. This statute grants the Agency broad authority to promote the safety and health of employees on the job. The OSH Act authorizes OSHA to promulgate occupational safety and health standards and to conduct inspections to enforce those standards -- by issuing citations, proposing monetary penalties, and requiring employers to abate hazards. In addition to the requirement for complying with standards, employers must comply with section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, which requires that all employers provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.

The Act also gives OSHA the authority to work with employers and employees in reducing workplace dangers. The agency provides a variety of consultative, educational and voluntary programs designed to assist employers and employees in recognizing and abating hazards.

The OSH Act encourages the States to conduct their own federally-approved job safety and health programs. Twenty-five states or jurisdictions currently operate OSHA programs which are monitored by OSHA to ensure that they are at least as effective as the federal program.

Employees of the Executive branch of the Government are protected by section 19 of the OSH Act and Executive Order 12196 which, among other requirements, mandates that all Federal agencies operate a safety and health program and comply with all OSHA standards.

As you are aware, the Legislative branch is excluded from coverage under the OSH Act. But we have indications that there are workplace hazards in Congressional offices and other workplaces of the Legislative branch. In October 1992 the General Accounting Office issued a report entitled, "Uneven Protections Provided to Congressional Employees." GAO's safety and health consultant found serious hazards in virtually all the Congressional offices which were visited, as well as at the Government Printing Office (GPO). Examples of these hazards include improper placement of automatic sprinklers, lack of protection from excessive noise, exposed blades on power saws and machines, poor ventilation, and improper labels on chemicals. GAO also found that no single Congressional office or official had full responsibility for protecting the safety and health of congressional employees.

The Legislative branch includes a variety of workplace environments, from white collar office settings to industrial and construction operations. The GAO report which I mentioned indicates that hazards found in Congressional workplaces are the same as those found by OSHA when it conducts inspections in the private sector or when it oversees workplaces of the Executive branch of our Government. OSHA has found that in office environments employees may be exposed to electrical dangers, indoor air problems, poor housekeeping, excessive noise, inaccessible fire extinguishers, and entrances and exits which may be blocked. Although the agency does not have regulations requiring a specified amount of space for each employee, we do enforce rules requiring that entrances and exits be accessible and that the capacity of each exit be sufficient to accommodate the number of occupants who would use the exit.

A safe office environment depends upon a number of factors. Among other things, employers should ensure that employees are trained to respond safely during a fire or evacuation; exits and walkways should be clear of materials that would prevent access; storage boxes and all office supplies should be stored properly so that they do not fall on workers; electrical wiring should be sufficient to handle the demand load; and safe work practices should be used when employees are lifting boxes and other heavy items.

In addition to the hundreds of offices in the Congress, the Legislative branch includes employees who perform industrial and construction work. These workplaces, which are generally more hazardous than the office environment, include such functions as carpentry, construction, electrical work, loading docks and print shops. In the private sector these types of worksites are covered by OSHA's Standards for General Industry as well as the agency's construction standards. Standards frequently cited in these workplaces include the requirements for guarding machines, protecting workers from falls, informing employees of hazardous chemicals, and rules maintaining safe work practices around electricity.

In addition to its existing rules, OSHA is moving to address hazards which affect a wide variety of workplaces in this nation and which are a concern to the legislative branch as well. On April 5 the agency issued a proposal to regulate indoor air quality and environmental tobacco smoke. Indoor air pollutants can cause headaches, respiratory infections, and nausea. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke has been linked to lung cancer and heart disease.

OSHA is also working on an ergonomics protection standard to combat the growing number of musculoskeletal disorders contacted at the workplace. These problems are expected to increase over the next several decades if left unregulated.

I hope that the information I have provided about OSHA is helpful to the Committee. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have about the agency.