Guild criticizes LoC on working conditions

The Library of Congress Professional Guild criticized the Library of Congress (LoC) last week for denying that employees were exposed to unsafe working conditions as recently detailed in Office of Compliance (OoC) citations.

“The damage is obvious and undeniable and yet the Library’s General Counsel now asserts that employees were not exposed to hazardous conditions,” wrote Nan Thompson Ernst, the guild’s representative on the Library’s health and safety committee, in Thursday’s edition of Vocal 2910, the guild’s newsletter. 

In December, the OoC filed several citations saying that the LoC initially failed to monitor employees’ exposure to airborne asbestos and keep work surfaces free from material containing asbestos, and violated lead-safety laws.

Responding to the citations the LoC said: “The Library has concluded that its employees have not been exposed to unsafe working conditions, as alleged in the citations.”

The guild, however, said the LoC only could make the case that workers were not exposed because no initial testing was completed.

“They can only make such a claim because no testing was done before the damaged flooring was covered by the Architect [of the Capitol] under the orders of the Office of Compliance,” Ernst continued.

The president of the Library of Congress Professional Guild, Saul Schniderman, said that the LoC response was without authentication, lacking a date, the LoC header and the signature of a safety chief.

“What if you had questions? Who would you call?” Schniderman said. “Substantively, it didn’t back it up with any facts.”

The guild has been calling for a new asbestos management plan that would specifically outline responsibilities for the LoC and the Architect of the Capitol, Ernst wrote. It has also called on the LoC to teach employees to be able to identify a potential safety hazard.

The LoC must train its supervisors to recognize safety hazards, protect its employees from hazards and teach its employees how to recognize potential safety threats, one of the OoC’s citations states. In addition, the library must adopt an asbestos floor-monitoring program to ensure that the material does not become airborne. These actions must be taken before Feb. 9.

Responding to the guild’s criticisms, the LoC defended its previous statement and said that the matter is under the control of the OoC.

“The library stands by its previous statement regarding the safety of our employees, and the matter is being handled through the Office of Compliance administrative process,” LoC communications director Matt Raymond said. “We understand that the Architect of the Capitol is taking immediate steps to ensure that the Library’s facilities are in full compliance with [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] asbestos regulations.”

Friday, the head of the LoC’s safety services notified workers that they would be conducting an informational forum to discuss the recent citations and answer questions.

“[Employees] need the knowledge to identify a hazard. They need to be able to report them to the safety managers,” Schniderman said of the info session. “Maybe this is the first step.”