OSHA Warns Interior to Fix Safety Hazards

March 6, 2007
OSHA has given the Department of Interior until March 7 to demonstrate that alleged safety and health hazards at the department's headquarters have been removed or that no hazards exist.

According to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental responsibility (PEER). OSHA received a complaint alleging hazardous conditions at the Department of Interior's Washington, D.C., office complex. In a Feb. 27 letter to the Department of Interior, OSHA's Baltimore/Washington area director, Leonard Moore Jr., instructs the department to “immediately investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary corrections or modifications.”

“If we do not receive a response from you by March 7, 2007, indicating that the appropriate action has been taken or that no hazards exist and why, an OSHA inspection will be conducted,” Moore wrote.

In Moore's letter, which is addressed to Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Paul Hoffman, OSHA notes that a slew of reported hazards were alleged in the employee complaint, including:

  • Unsafe storage of combustible chemicals such as gasoline, flammable aerosols, paints and sealers.
  • Underground electrical equipment in wet areas.
  • Jammed fire exit doors and non-illuminated and/or missing exit signs.

The letter asks the Interior Department to supply “supporting documentation of your findings, including any applicable measurements or monitoring results,” photographs and/or video “as well as a description of any corrective action you have taken or are in the process of taking, including of the corrected condition.”

Internal Audit Found Safety and Health Violations

An internal audit of the Department of Interior headquarters conducted in late January revealed 84 findings that posed concern for the safety and health of workers as well as for the environment. (For more, read "Internal Audit Finds Safety Issues at Interior Department.")

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.

According to PEER, the Interior Department still is refusing to release the audit results to reporters, other agencies and even its own employees.

“Like the longstanding conditions at Walter Reed, corrective action will not take place at Interior until these problems have been fully exposed to the light of day,” said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “Just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates took direct action at Walter Reed, the Interior secretary needs to his job by holding top management accountable.”

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