DES MOINES, Iowa — A top workplace safety regulator has warned the Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature that conditions inside the state Capitol are hazardous and may be exposing workers to the coronavirus.
Russell Perry, administrator of the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration, warned in a “hazard alert letter” dated April 13 that an inspection by his agency raised concerns for the potential of worker illnesses tied to COVID-19 exposure.
Perry wrote that social distancing is not always practiced or enforced inside the building, temperature checks and health screens are not performed on everyone entering and employees are not required to report positive tests to legislative leaders under their policy.
“By refusing to enact basic workplace protections and mitigation measures, Republicans are forcing members of the public to choose between participating in the democratic process and protecting their own health and safety," Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls said in a statement. "Their failure has had measurable, negative impacts on the lives of all Iowans."
“The worst infraction this politically-contrived investigation could find was a missing faceplate for an outlet," said Melissa Deatsch, Communications Director for the Iowa House Republicans via email. "Leadership has taken extensive efforts since January to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will continue to do so for the remainder of the 2021 Legislative session."
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, also released a statement about the OSHA's findings, saying the investigation confirmed the protocols put in place comply with Iowa law.
“Over the course of more than 14 weeks, the Iowa Senate has been notified of only two positive cases and the measures in place are working," Whitver said.
"The report noted it was possible to contact the coronavirus in the Capitol. This fact, of course, is also true of nearly any other activity in the world."
Republicans lead both chambers, meaning they set the rules for COVID-19 mitigation.
In the statehouse, lawmakers, their staff and the general public are not required to wear face coverings. Reporting a positive COVID-19 test is not mandatory for lawmakers, their staff or other employees.
According to iowacovid19tracker.org, 10 individuals associated with the legislature have tested positive for COVID-19. Three of those have happened in April, the most recent being reported last Wednesday.
A citation list, also written by Perry, says violations in the Capitol totaled $10,439. The General Assembly agreed to pay a reduced penalty of $5,219.50.
There are only two citations listed on the report. The second has subitems.
The citation report says a faceplate of an outlet in the Capitol had been removed, "exposing the terminal screws and incoming wire's copper conductors."
Read the "Hazard Alert" letter below. The citation letter is at the bottom of this story.
According to the citation, this condition "exposed employees to a shock/burn hazard." The violation is deemed "serious" and was observed around Jan. 28.
The violation was corrected during the inspection, and the proposed penalty cost was $8,525.
The second citation, deemed "other-than-serious," says the Capitol didn't keep a record of injuries or illnesses.
"This condition may result in the employer not identifying injury/illness trends," the report says.
This was recorded on Jan. 27, with a proposed penalty totaled $957.
The report also says the Capitol "has not developed written and implemented a hazard communication program" when it comes to chemicals used for cleaning. This information is important to help prevent employee exposure to harmful chemicals.
This violation was recorded on Jan. 26 with a proposed penalty of $957.
The last two violations recorded, also deemed as "other-than-serious," concern chemical usage on the Capitol. Neither had any proposed penalties.
One noted that secondary chemical containers of Decon 30, a disinfectant cleaner, weren't labeled. The report says employees had been using the cleaner as a sanitizer.
Lastly, the report says there weren't any safety data sheets for chemicals employees had been given. A sheet is needed to help prevent employee exposure to harmful chemicals as well as assist in personal protective equipment selection.
The Associated Press contributed to this report