WASHINGTON—The largest federal employees union testified today that there is room for improvement in federal health and safety, and workers’ compensation programs. American Federation of Government Employees Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez told members of the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia that the union has concerns about said programs throughout the government, and specifically at the Transportation Security Administration.
“AFGE is pleased to see increased attention being paid to workplace safety and health, but there is room for improvement,” Rodriguez said. “Identifying hazards early, abating them promptly, training and educating workers, and providing them with the appropriate protective equipment will keep the federal workforce from becoming injured or sick on the job.”
While testifying on health and safety in the entire federal government, Rodriguez specifically discussed workplace exposure to ionizing radiation at TSA—which has been an issue since the agency’s inception. TSA has held the position that there is no harmful exposure from radiation emissions from the X-ray machines used to view the contents of checked baggage as well as carry-on baggage. AFGE offered to conduct an independent study of radiation emissions, but TSA declined the offer. AFGE also offered to fund the purchase of dosimeters (which measure exposure to radiation) but TSA said TSOs are not allowed to wear dosimeters not issued by TSA, even though they refuse to purchase them. TSA’s position is that the agency has done the necessary testing and is not required by any applicable standards to issue dosimeters to its employees.
“While TSA may have done the testing necessary to show that the levels of radiation emitted from the screening equipment are below action levels, their lack of response and their failure to address employee concerns beg the question, what are they hiding? Why has TSA been unwilling to share the results with employees, and with us, their representative?” Rodriguez asked. “We understand some information may be classified as security sensitive, but employees deserve answers. We urge the Subcommittee to request TSA provide copies of any studies they have conducted or have contracted with others to conduct.”
Rodriguez also testified that “care and compensation available to injured workers is woefully inadequate” including agencies refusing to provide the paperwork necessary to file a claim, to accept doctors’ notes, and to accommodate employees who need limited duty due to medical restrictions.
“Federal agencies have the responsibility of providing a workplace free from recognized hazards,” Rodriguez said. “Agencies don’t always follow their own health and safety programs; sometimes they don’t follow OSHA’s standards. Even when the agency at the headquarters level develops good, protective health and safety program, it does not always mean they are implemented at the installation level. The vast majority of workplace injuries and illnesses can be prevented by following protective health and safety measures.”
A full copy of the testimony can be found here.