Given the impact COVID-19 is having on us all, safety is at the top of most minds these days. Things we used to take for granted like going to the movies, ballpark or grocery store are either nonexistent or take more planning than we're used to.
Things are no different for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC). We have adapted to this new environment and continue to evaluate how best to keep our employees safe. While many things have changed in recent weeks, our commitment to safety was present long before our vocabulary expanded to include words like coronavirus, COVID-19 or social distancing.
One of the important ways we're advancing our safety efforts is through self-inspections, which are part of the agency's Strategic Plan. They are a way for jurisdictions to self-identify and self-correct risks to ensure a safe and environmentally compliant work area. Some of those risks include hazards such as electrical issues. Self-inspections offer a chance to check the fire extinguishers, ladders, tools, egresses and other housekeeping items. The inspections also allow the safety specialists to interact with employees to answer questions or address concerns they might have and provide on-the-spot training if necessary.
The Capitol Building jurisdiction is pioneering the self-inspection effort and has taken the opportunity to involve its leaders including Superintendent Mark Reed, Deputy Superintendent Jason McIntyre and Assistant Superintendent John Deubler. As Reed explains, his leadership team made the decision to perform the self-inspections for two main reasons, "First, we want to see for ourselves what types of safety violations exist. Second, completing the self-inspections allows us to experience what we are asking our employees to do. Too often, we assign tasks without understanding the true impact. This affords the opportunity to understand what effort and resources are required to inspect the building, identify safety violations and abate the issues. It also reinforces the importance of safety."
Safety, Fire and Environmental Programs (SFEP) designed and manages the tool used to track the jurisdiction's inspection findings and has been pleased with the impacts of the self-inspections.
"Safety is one of our core values, and inspections are an important way for the AOC to ensure a safe environment for all who work in or visit the Capitol complex and AOC-managed facilities. When Mr. Reed, Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Deubler personally perform inspections and assure the findings are corrected, it shows the value they place on creating a safe workplace. Leaders set the example, and I'm excited about the work they are doing in this area," said SFEP Director Pat Williams.
McIntyre agrees, "The best benefit of the self-inspection program is that it is an avenue for our jurisdiction to improve the safety of the work environment for the men and women maintaining the U.S. Capitol. When our shop employees see our front office taking a personal interest in their safety, my goal is that it will empower them to take the same approach and identify safety improvements to help protect their fellow workers."
Before COVID-19 upended many of our schedules, we tagged along on a self-inspection with the Capitol Building's Safety and Occupational Health Manager Brent Dittman, Safety and Occupational Health Specialist Gerardo Figueroa and Deubler.
For Deubler, the primary goal is to protect the U.S. Capitol for future generations. "I am just one in a long line of AOC employees who have taken care of the building since 1793, and I want to make sure it is around for many years to come. Part of protecting the Capitol is trying to eliminate all safety hazards that can potentially injure our staff or other occupants or can damage the building," he said.
Deubler regularly attends project meetings to stay informed about what staff are working on, but that isn’t the same as seeing it firsthand. "Getting out in the field lets me see the high quality of the work. I am always impressed with the standard of care the AOC employees show for the Capitol Building."
One could argue that same standard of care has been around for centuries.
As we followed the team through the mechanical space scheduled for that day's inspection, Figueroa described the elements in the room and the efforts it has taken to transform it into what it is today. "This is a unique, one-of-a-kind building. It has gone from having no electricity to a system of pulleys and levers to modern-day HVAC and electrical systems — several of which involved transforming small, cramped spaces. What we have accomplished collectively over the generations is impressive."
And thanks to the efforts of the Capitol Building team, the improvements continue.
The self-inspections are scheduled about once a month with two of the Capitol's superintendents, while Dittman and Figueroa perform inspections daily. "Whether it be shop inspections with supervisors or while we're just walking down the hall, the goal is always the same — increasing the safety of employees," said Dittman.
And for McIntyre that is the ultimate goal, "Safety of our employees is my highest priority. As a newer employee to the Capitol Building jurisdiction, this program allows me to put a fresh set of eyes on spaces our staff have been working in for many years. Eliminating a potential shock or fall hazard is important work — everyone goes home safe and we can continue to serve Congress and preserve the U.S. Capitol."
Really a great program you have for OUR houses, wish this could happen in our state Capital, also city. This sure help to keep Washington D.C. young.