Per the terms of a settlement agreement with the Office of Compliance (OoC), AoC must:
- Abate the safety and health hazards within 5 years, unless extended by mutual agreement of the parties or necessitated by funding shortfalls.
- Conduct a baseline audit in the tunnels to identify all health and safety hazards existing in the tunnels. Based on this audit, AoC must develop a comprehensive site management plan and specific milestone dates that it will follow for correcting all of the hazards.
- Meet with representatives of OoC at least once a month to discuss any hazards, inspections and any other matters related to the settlement.
- Allow OoC to closely monitor AoC progress and make sure that abatement milestone dates are being met.
For years, tunnel workers have complained that they are exposed to asbestos, excess heat, falling concrete and a slew of other safety hazards. Since 2000, the general counsel of the Office of Compliance (OoC) has sent complaints that never were addressed.
The settlement agreement came about after 8 months of negotiations.
“Our ultimate goal in filing this complaint was to protect the health and safety of employees,” OoC General Counsel Peter Ames Eveleth said. “The settlement agreement that we have negotiated with the Architect of the Capitol is precedent-setting and creates a process that we are convinced will allow us to ensure that the existing hazards are corrected.”
Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers noted that AoC will be committed to ensuring a safe and healthy working environment for its workers.
“This agreement will help address, on a comprehensive basis, the issues in the tunnels, including taking appropriate actions to mitigate them,” Ayers said. “We appreciate the funding and support that Congress has provided to help us address these issues.”
Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash. – who in April urged AoC to pull the workers out of the tunnels after receiving information that the workers had signs of pulmonary and respiratory diseases – said the agreement is a “good first step to address the [Architect of the Capitol's] astounding backlog of 13,000 health and safety violations.” (For more, read “Architect of Capitol Pulls Workers From Tunnels.”)
However, Murray also noted that the agreement doesn't require the agency to remove all the asbestos from the tunnels. She asserted that the next best step is to have all the asbestos removed so future tunnel workers “will have a safe and healthy workplace.”