Presented ToCommittee on House Administration, House of Representatives
Speaker(s)Stanley, James W.
JAMES W. STANLEY
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR
FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
COMMITTEE ON HOUSE ADMINISTRATION
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JULY 14, 1994
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am James W. Stanley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. 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 Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). 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 that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
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 provides legal duties for private sector employers and requires OSHA to enforce these responsibilities. All private employers are expected to protect their employees regardless of whether they own or lease the building. Employers are expected to work with building owners or landlords to ensure that workplace hazards are abated.
The OSH Act also encourages the States to conduct their own federally-approved job safety and health programs. Twenty-five states or jurisdictions currently operate OSHA programs. OSHA monitors the State programs 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. In the Executive branch the General Services Administration, which is the landlord for many Federal buildings, is required by Executive Order 12196 to assure prompt attention to reports of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions from Federal agencies. GSA is also required to submit to the reporting agency a timetable for corrective action when hazards cannot be immediately abated.
As you are aware, the Legislative branch is excluded from coverage under the OSH Act. But there have been reports of workplace hazards in Congressional offices and other workplaces of the Legislative branch. For example, in October 1992 the General Accounting Office issued a report entitled, "Uneven Protections Provided to Congressional Employees." GAO's safety and health consultant found safety and health hazards in virtually all the Congressional offices which were visited, as well as at the Government Printing Office. Examples of these hazards include improper placement of automatic sprinklers, lack of protection from excessive noise, unguarded blades on power saws and machines, poor ventilation, and improper labels on chemicals.
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 many of the 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 contaminants, poor housekeeping, inaccessible fire extinguishers, and means of egress which may be blocked or locked. Although the agency does not have regulations requiring a specified amount of space for each employee, we do enforce rules requiring that means of egress 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 escape in event of emergency; storage boxes and office supplies should be stored properly so that they do not fall on workers; electrical wiring should be in conformance with the National Electrical Code; 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 printing operations. 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.
Employers in the Legislative branch are confronted with the same kinds of hazards as those found by employers in the private sector. For example, employees in the Office of the Attending Physician face hazards similar to those faced by employees in private physicians' offices and other health-care settings. If the Congress were required to comply with the OSH Act, the employees of the Office of the Attending Physician would be required to be protected by OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. Similarly, the Architect of the Capitol and the Government Printing Office would be required to comply with all applicable standards for construction and general industry.
OSHA cannot provide an estimate of the cost of complying with these rules. The cost of compliance for the Legislative branch would depend upon conditions found in the workplaces and the changes needed to comply with OSHA's standards. I should note that in Fiscal Year 1993 the Lost Workday Injury/Illness Rate for the Senate and House was 1.47 and 0.82 per 100 full-time workers respectively. This compares with a rate of 2.70 per 100 workers for the Government overall. Generally, we have found that employees who effectively protect their workers realize savings through lower workers' compensation costs, less downtime, increased productivity, and better morale.
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.