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Union Blasts D.C. Youth Agency for Escalating Injury Rates, Safety Lapses

An uptick in employee injury rates at the agency charged with the care and rehabilitation of the District of Columbia's youth offenders has prompted calls for the resignation of the agency's director.

The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) manages two facilities in the Washington, D.C., area Oak Hill and Mt. Olive. The mission of the agency "is to improve public safety and give court-involved youths the opportunity to become more productive citizens by building on the strengths of youths and their families in the least restrictive, most homelike environment consistent with public safety," according to the DYRS Web site.

According to the union for DYRS, employee injury rates at the agency have increased by more than 25 percent a year, reaching a historic high.

Glen Adams, chairman of the District of Columbia Fraternal Order of Police's DYRS labor committee, in an Aug. 31 press conference argued that the litany of safety problems have "crossed over the border into gross neglect' and charged that due to a lack of a comprehensive safety program for its employees, "approximately 25 percent of the members at Oak Hill and Mt. Olive facilities are injured on the job as a result of assaults."

In 2003, the union filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court and secured an injunction requiring Oak Hill administrators to begin creating a program to protect workers against bloodborne pathogens, including the HIV and HBV viruses. But Adams said this was not enough.

"We have no comprehensive safety program for DYRS employees, and it was not until our union filed a lawsuit in 2003 that we were able to secure through court order even the most basic protections against bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and HBV," Adams said.

Adams charged that:

  • Assault rates among DYRS workers are running as high as 25 percent, meaning that one out of every four workers on the job at DYRS has a likelihood of being assaulted.
  • There are no health care professionals at the DYRS facilities for treating worker injuries, and there is no protocol in place for such occurrences.
  • There is no comprehensive safety and health program at DYRS, and there is no licensed or properly trained DYRS employee charged with implementing a worker health and safety program
  • There still is no program at DYRS to monitor employees for the HIV and HBV viruses after an employee has been exposed to bloodborne pathogens.
  • DYRS is in violation of basic occupational safety and health protocols to properly report workplace-related injury and illness, and fails to maintain material safety data sheets for workplace toxins.
  • Water leakage is present in several units, creating mold and mildew.

"The District's youth, our staff and the citizens at large are at peril and it is time for our union to come forward, identify the problems and hold the responsible parties accountable," Adams said.

Calls made to the Mayor Anthony Williams' office seeking comment for this story were not returned.

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