Safety Hazards Down, Harassment Up for Capitol Hill Workers

Friday, Sep 30, 2011  |  Updated 10:05 AM EDT
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Hazards Down, Harassment Up on Capitol Hill

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The U.S. Capitol building is illuminated on July 31, 2011 in Washington, DC.

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Congressional workplaces are getting safer, but the number of discrimination and harassment cases has risen, according to the Office of Compliance.

The OOC’s annual report found a significant increase in discrimination, harassment and retaliation cases in the past five years, as well as an increase in requests for counseling and mediation over the same period. Most claims related to race, age, sex and disability. The Office of the Architect of the Capitol had the most counseling requests, followed by Capitol Police.

“Although the number of contacts they received in FY 2010 was less than 1 percent of the 30,000 Legislative Branch employees, it was a 23 percent increase from FY 2009, which shows that more employees are taking advantage of the OOC’s services,” read a joint statement from Committee on House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., and ranking member Robert Brady, D-Pa..

The OOC recommended posting employee rights in offices and training on inappropriate conduct, from which Congress is exempt.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told News4 she will introduce a bill next week strengthening workplace rights.

Lungren and Brady’s statement commended the Architect of the Capitol for the safety improvements. Only 5,400 safety hazards were reported in the 111th Congress (2009-2010), down 42 percent from 9,250 in the 110th Congress and 60 percent from 13,141 in the 109th Congress, according to the annual report.

A dozen of those hazards are considered dangerous – capable of causing permanent disability or death to workers and visitors in the event of fire. A quarter of them were considered high risk to workers and visitors. Electrical (3,006, including 1,336 hazards relating to cords) and fire safety (1,717) were the most common categories for safety hazards.

Prior to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, Congress was exempt from laws regarding workplace rights, occupational safety and health, accessibility, and fair labor. The act covers House, Senate, Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountabilty Office, Library of Congress, Office of the Architect of the Capitol, Office of the Attending Physician, OOC, Office of Congressional Accessibility Services and Capitol Police workplaces.

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