Although the report covered only a quarter of the 15-million square feet of facilities and grounds under the OoCâ€™s jurisdiction, and the number of hazards is several times the amount found in a smaller survey in 2002, OoC officials say it doesnâ€™t mean a safety problem is getting worse.
â€œItâ€™s apples and oranges,â€ OoC Executive Director Bill Thompson told The Hill. â€œA comparison really only shows how much more thorough and detailed this inspection has been compared to those in the past.â€
He added, â€œThe most important number is how many of these hazards identified are still problems, and that number is very small."
The report, which will be made public in the coming months, encompassed all public areas of the House and Senate office buildings and the Capitol, excluding areas that arenâ€™t controlled by the Architect of the Capitolâ€™s (AoCâ€™s) Office.
â€œThe report being conducted by the OoC is by far the most extensive safety report conducted on the Capitol complex in recent memory, so it is not at all surprisingâ€¦ for there to be a high number of violations tallied,â€ Brian Walsh, communications director for the House Administration Committee, told The Hill.
Membersâ€™ offices and committee rooms in the congressional office buildings or Capitol were not inspected. They are part of a remaining area, representing nearly half of the covered facilities, scheduled to be inspected during the current Congress.
AoC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said her office has â€œbeen working closely with the OoC to continually improve the fire- and life-safety systems of the Capitol Hill complex while preserving and protecting the unique, historic features of these buildings. We continue to make safety a top priority, to assure the safety and well being of everyone who works in and visits the Capitol complex.â€
The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 requires the OoC to â€œinspect facilities in the Legislative Branch for occupational health and safety compliance once every Congress.â€ Hazards are assigned a rating using risk-assessment codes (RACs), a system that ranks the violation on a scale of one to five â€” one being a relatively high risk and five an insignificant risk.
The RAC guidelines note that the â€œOoC does not identify insignificant risks so we do not have RAC 5 findings.â€ Officials at the OoC declined to comment on how many of each hazard had been found within the inspected legislative areas since they have not distributed the report.
A new software system purchased in spring 2004 will help expedite the process of correcting compliance problems around the Hill, according to officials.