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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

Norton Wants Department of Labor to Investigate Denial of Restroom Access to Bus Drivers

May 15, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) released a letter she sent today to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Thomas Perez calling on DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate workplace protections for transit workers, particularly bus drivers, who have complained of inadequate access to restrooms.  Norton said she had received reports from bus drivers from across the country, including in the District of Columbia, of poor working conditions due to limited or nonexistent restroom access.

In the letter, Norton writes: “Lack of access to restrooms can pose health risks to drivers and safety risks to drivers, passengers, and other vehicles.  Drivers have developed conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infections, dehydration, and fatigue.  Studies show that when drivers are in extreme need of a restroom, there can be negative impacts on basic cognitive functions similar to a person who has not slept or who has consumed multiple alcoholic beverages.”

Norton requested a response from Secretary Perez within 30 days.

The full text of the letter is below:

May 15, 2015

The Honorable Thomas E. Perez
Secretary
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Perez:

Our transit bus drivers across the country provide a service of such importance to transit riders that many Americans would be unable to hold a job or reach other essential places and activities without them.  As Ranking Member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, a recurring problem that has been brought to my attention and other Members of Congress is the astonishing absence of access to restrooms or breaks for bus drivers.  We believe that this widespread situation warrants the attention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Bus drivers in multiple jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, Nevada, New York, Connecticut, and Washington state have been outspoken about the impacts of a lack of restroom access.  Lack of access to restrooms can pose health risks to drivers and safety risks to drivers, passengers, and other vehicles.  Drivers have developed conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infections, dehydration, and fatigue.  Studies show that when drivers are in extreme need of a restroom, there can be negative impacts on basic cognitive functions similar to a person who has not slept or who has consumed multiple alcoholic beverages.  Transit systems routinely replace urine-soiled driver seats. 

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined Seattle’s King County Metro Transit $3,500 for not providing enough restrooms to employees and for disciplining drivers who were late after visiting bathrooms.  However, we are not aware of other efforts to address this issue.  Particularly considering that transit systems across the country receive federal funding, we believe that action is urgently required.

We request an OSHA investigation that would be appropriate for this issue.  Our office would provide complaints we have received if you desire. I would appreciate a response within 30 days concerning what action you believe is feasible.  I ask that this request be given full and fair consideration consistent with applicable law, rules, and regulations.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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