In an internal audit of the Interior Department's Washington, D.C., headquarters conducted in late January, the audit team identified violations of fire safety, electrical and toxic waste regulations of both the federal government and the District of Columbia. Violations ranged from ungrounded electrical equipment in wet areas to flammable liquids being kept in improperly stored plastic containers.
While Bourgeois asserted that such violations are being corrected, he added that the Interior Department's headquarters complex is more than 65 years old and that some improvements will take time.
“This historic Interior headquarters location was constructed in the late 1930s and, as such, its major systems – electrical, HVAC and fire egress systems – are not up to current code,” Bourgeois explained. “As a result, we have this major effort to modernize the building and to improve these systems and the health and safety conditions related to the building as a result of those overall improvements.”
According to Bourgeois, the modernization effort is “a little bit less than halfway done,” with two out of the six wings completed.
Bourgeois acknowledged that challenges exist when modernizing a building with occupants, but he claimed that the Interior Department has been mitigating health and safety hazards by performing ongoing testing for asbestos and other airborne particulates. He also asserted that OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and EPA have been called in to perform independent reviews of health and safety conditions and the Interior Department “has worked diligently to implement their recommendations.”
Bourgeois: Interior Department Takes Safety Seriously
In reference to OSHA's letter, Bourgeois noted that many of problems already have been remedied or are in the process of being remedied. He also said that the agency misquoted the audit regarding the co-storage of hazardous materials such as gasoline, PVC cement and zinc coating.
“Because those are hazardous materials, we put a contract in place with a HAZMAT contractor to remove those materials from building,” Bourgeois said. “The contractor started the work last weekend, separated those materials out, packaged them appropriately, staged them and began removal of materials last night to be carried out the remainder of this week.”
Bourgeois emphasized that the Interior Department takes the health and safety of its employees seriously and has assembled a team to help address any remaining safety and health concerns.
“By addressing the issues that we have that have been identified,the building is evidently safer and we are continuing to work on a daily basis to make sure that our folks here are safe,” Bourgeois said.