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Report: Harassment Claims Up, Safety Hazards Down Among Capitol Workforce

“I think that you probably have a different level of training about the existence of these laws for people in more blue collar kinds of positions, who tend to stay in those jobs longer,” Katz said. “And from a career perspective, it’s much more threatening to someone who works in a Congressional office to bring a charge against a Member or staffer, as people are very concerned about retaliation and the effect that will have on a career in politics.”

She added that the numbers could also be deceptive, as Congressional staffers are often able to resolve their complaints with their supervisors before going to the OOC.

It’s troubling that workplace harassment persists, Katz said, but it would be premature to assume that it is becoming a bigger problem on Capitol Hill.

Americans With Disabilities Act Compliance

Legislative branch offices are required to provide access to individuals with disabilities, making infrastructure adjustments such as adding ramps, elevators or automatic doors when necessary.

But in a tight budget year, the OOC says it will not have the resources to keep the Architect of the Capitol informed about which features of Capitol Hill need to be upgraded for disabled people.

“Although the OOC has developed a comprehensive plan to conduct ... inspections in a cost-effective way ... given current budgetary constraints, it is unlikely that much of this plan will be fully implemented in fiscal 2012,” the report said. “Inspections are performed by the same staff conducting [Occupational Safety and Health] inspections, which due to ongoing safety and health concerns, are given a higher priority within the OOC.”

Lack of funding for the accessibility inspections would be “devastating,” according to Curtis Decker, the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network.

“We have worked with the OOC and have recently seen a lot more energy in its dealings with the several complaints we’ve made, and to have this effort curtailed would be very distressing,” he said.

State of Workplace Safety and Health

The OOC found 5,400 hazards in the Congressional workplace during fiscal 2010, a reduction of 42 percent from the previous year.

The Architect of the Capitol took pride in the numbers.

“We are pleased with this progress, particularly because the amount of square footage of facilities that the [AOC] maintains dramatically increased over that same period of time,” said spokeswoman Eva Malecki, who added that more than half the identified hazards fell within the lowest-risk categories.

A dozen of the hazards, however, would be considered “Category I” by the OOC’s rating system, meaning that they could result in “death or permanent total disability.” Electrical and fire safety issues accounted for the largest percentage of hazards.

Three Category I hazards existed in House buildings in the previous year, and two such hazards were identified in the Senate. All were fire related.

The 2,314 hazards identified in the Rayburn House Office Building in fiscal 2010 put the structure at the top of the OOC’s list for the third consecutive year. The Capitol Police headquarters had the lowest number of hazards at 50.

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