Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Monday, January 08, 2007

Library Of Congress Cited For Safety Problems

One might think that librarians have pretty darn safe jobs -- particularly those who work for the Library of Congress. Of course, as usual when it comes to workplace safety, that would be wrong.

According to Roll Call magazine (subscription required), the Library of Congress has received 4 citations from the federal Office of Compliance. (The Library of Congress, like other Congressional offices is not covered by OSHA, but the Office of Compliance enforces OSHA regulations.)
At the request of the [Library of Congress Professional Guild, AFSCME Local 2910], inspectors were first called to stacks in the Jefferson Building in August to determine whether any unsafe conditions had been created by heavy rains, said Nan Ernst, the guild's representative on the Library's health and safety committee.

Inspectors found water from a roof leak had damaged walls in Decks A and B, and cited the Library because of the potential for electric shock. Another citation was issued because water had caused the spread of lead paint particles.

While at the site inspectors also noticed nearby floor tiles and wall panels that contain asbestos had been damaged, and issued a third citation.

In addition, inspectors discovered a passageway between Deck B and Deck 38 in the building had been seriously deteriorated because of the use of heavy book trucks. That also created high levels of asbestos, prompting the OOC to issue a citation.

"Once we were over there, everybody started going, 'What's going on with this floor?" Ernst said. "It was kind of alarming. ... It should have never deteriorated to that point."

According to the citation, the extent of the deterioration required the Library to collect monitoring data on asbestos levels. The Library conducted only one sampling of the air, after workers had tried to fix some of the damages by covering the floor with protective material. That did not meet safety requirements, according to the citation.
The response of the LOC's General Counsel to the citations can be summed up in two words: "Bite me!"
In a letter to the OOC on Jan. 4, the counsel responded to one of four citations issued by the OOC on Dec. 13, contending the Library met all procedures regarding asbestos monitoring and took proper measures to protect employees.

"After careful review, the Library has concluded that its employees have not been exposed to unsafe working conditions, as alleged in the citations," the Library wrote in a statement. "We are responding to all the matters raised by the Office of Compliance. Together with the Architect of the Capitol, the Library has been addressing various maintenance issues for some time in the Thomas Jefferson Building to ensure that it remains a safe environment for all Library employees."
Not so, says Guild president Saul Schneiderman:
"For years our union has been raising concerns about asbestos at the Library of Congress," he said. "The recent exposure caused by damaged asbestos flooring in the Jefferson Building occurred because of neglect."
The Libary has until the end of January and beginning of February to respond to the citations. We'll keep you posted.


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