More than 70 percent of congressional offices violate OSHA safety standards

More than 70 percent of congressional offices have violated worker safety standards over the past year.

While the majority of all lawmaker offices on Capitol Hill have at least one health or safety hazard violation, this year’s inspection data from the Office of Compliance inspections is an improvement over last year’s.

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The number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations found in each office has significantly decreased over the years as well — from an average of about 8.15 violations per office in 2007 to an average of 1.75 hazards in each office this year.

The type of violations is also shifting, from what used to be gross safety risks to what are now relatively minor infractions, like lengths of electric cord strung together or a blocked electrical outlet.

“In the past, we’ve found serious fire hazards such as blocked sprinkler heads, stacks of paper on heaters, fire doors obstructed by furniture and outlets with exposed live wires,” said Peter Ames Eveleth, general counsel of the Office of Compliance.

“We are talking about serious hazards that have plagued congressional offices for years.”

Of the 541 offices in Congress, 154 were found to be completely in compliance with OSHA standards — those of 64 senators and 90 House lawmakers — leaving 387 offices that had at least one violation. This is a marked increase from 2008, when only 37 offices were found to be in complete accordance, or in 2006, when only seven offices were in compliance.

Capitol officials attribute the increase in compliance to several factors, including the heightened awareness of how members of Congress want to be perceived by voters in their districts.

“Many members are not only concerned with the safety of their employees and visitors, but they also want to send a message to employers and employees in their states and districts that Congress will live by the laws that apply to employers in the private sector and the executive branch,” said Eveleth.

The Office of Compliance also noted the role that education outreach efforts have played in increasing office awareness — such as walk-through faux inspections, which point out OSHA violations to staffers, as conducted by the Architect of the Capitol’s (AoC) office, the office of the chief administrative officer, and the Office of the Superintendent.

“It’s really a collective effort that serves as a role model for effectively reducing OSHA hazards,” said Tamara Chrisler, the executive director of the Office of Compliance. “AoC workers and employment counsel, working in conjunction with members, have played a substantial and leading role in instilling a culture of safety in the legislative branch.”

The Office of Compliance is planning to commend the complying members this year with its annual “Office Safety” awards next week, when Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is scheduled to give the keynote address.

While the Office of Compliance is pleased with this year’s results, it’s aiming for a future in which zero violations are found in all 541 congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

“Our program is simple. It requires zero OSHA hazards to receive the award,” said Eveleth.