Another Example of the Government Not Following Its Own Lead Paint Rules
Did you know that our government has created its own exceptions to the rules and punishments it imposes on the rest of us? Think insider trading rules for Congress. One more example of this is that Federal agencies are required to comply with the same OSHA health and safety standards as private sector employers, but OSHA can’t propose monetary penalties against them for failure to comply with its standards.
A recent example of this related to lead in construction is discussed in an OSHA News Release dated May 10, 2011. According to the release OSHA had issued 16 notices of unhealthful and unsafe working conditions to the National Park Service-San Juan National Historic Site for violations of workplace health and safety standards, including exposing workers to lead and other hazards during lead paint encapsulation work in a building at the site.
According to the release, The National Park Service was cited with violations related to lead hazards and included; not training employees on the recognition and avoidance of lead hazards, not conducting an initial lead exposure assessment, allowing lead to accumulate on floors, not providing clean change areas, not providing for laundering of protective clothing, allowing employees to leave the work area wearing protective clothing, inadequate hand-washing facilities and not notifying workers of their blood lead levels.
To make matters worse, OSHA considered these violations “willful”. According to OSHA a willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Also according to OSHA, a serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
At the San Juan National Historic Site project eight alleged serious violations resulted from a lack of medical evaluations and fit-testing for employees using respirators, improper storage of compressed gas cylinders, no eye-wash stations where employees worked with corrosive products, an uncovered electrical receptacle, a lack of hazard communication training and material data sheets of the products used, and not implementing hazard communication and written respiratory protection programs.
“There is a new sheriff in town. Make no mistake about it; the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business… Under my watch, enforcement of labor laws will be intensified to provide an effective deterrent to employers who put their workers’ lives at risk.”
-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, (March 2009)
Under Executive Order 12196 and Section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the head of each federal agency is responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for employees. However, like many government jobs, there is typically no punishment if they don’t. What would it have cost your business if it had committed the same violations? According to Puerto Rico area director Jose A. Carpena, the identified hazards would have resulted in fines of $115,000 for a private sector employer. “The National Park Service must take effective action to correct these hazards and prevent them from occurring again,” he added.