OSHA Issues $2.3M Fine for Worker Asbestos Exposure

Federal regulators slapped a real estate management and development firm with more than $2.3 million in fines, after determining the company intentionally exposed its own employees, as well as 13 contractors, to asbestos and lead hazards.
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The exposure occurred during a renovation and cleanup of an old psychiatric center in New York, as the company prepared to have investors tour the site.

Spartanburg workers’ compensation lawyers know that while asbestos isn’t typically used anymore as a construction material, it was widely employed in a broad range of products for the majority of the 20th Century – even though manufacturers knew of its dangerousness. That’s why both state and federal authorities now have very specific rules about how its should be handled and disposed.

Asbestos is potentially lethal when the fibers are disturbed, become airborne and breathed into the lungs. However, those affected won’t likely know whether they have suffered illness, such as asbestosis or mesothelioma, until many decades down the road.

In South Carolina, there was a recent case where health department officials outside of Myrtle Beach noted asbestos material outside a hotel where workers were about to begin demolition. Authorities there have halted the demolition and called for an investigation into possible illegal dumping.

In addition to endangering the public, such actions often put workers at even greater risk, as illegal dumping operations rarely involve workers who are given proper safety equipment or training to handle the debris. In some cases, they may not even recognize what it is or know that it’s dangerous.

Here, the Department of Health and Environmental control must be notified in advance of all renovation or demolition projects involving asbestos work.

In the New York case, authorities were notified of unapproved asbestos removal by a worker filing a complaint. There was reportedly asbestos in the floor tiles and insulation, while lead was present in the wall paint, windows, door frames and other painted surfaces. Company leaders oversaw removal of these items from the premises, and never once raised health concerns with employees or contractors.

Authorities with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration would later determine that despite the fact that the real estate development firm was aware that asbestos and lead were present, it made no effort to inform employees or the contractors. Therefore, none of the workers were equipped with the proper respiratory safety gear that would typically be required. Neither did they implement simple precautions, such as wetting the material before it was removed. Employees weren’t trained about asbestos or lead hazards. Workers’ exposure levels weren’t monitored. There were no notices or warning signs posted. There was also no clean changing or decontamination space provided for workers. In many cases, workers wore their work clothing home, exposing their families – including young children – to the material.

In all, the company was cited for 45 willful violations, which is one in which a company breaks the law intentionally and with plain indifference to employee health and safety. Waste haulers were also not informed of the contents of the debris, meaning it was not disposed of properly and could still pose harm to the public.

Workers can collect workers’ compensation for work-related exposure to toxic chemicals and materials that results in illness. That worker may also be eligible to file a third-party liability claim against the manufacturer of the dangerous product (in this case, for example, the maker of the insulation).

Because there are statutory time limits on how long a worker has to file a lawsuit or for workers’ compensation, it’s important that a worker exposed to such occupational hazards at least consult with an experienced attorney to examine potential compensation options.

If you have been injured at work in Spartanburg, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Olivet Management faces $2.3M in OSHA fines for knowingly exposing workers to asbestos and lead at NY work site, April 2, 2014, Press Release, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Adminis tion

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New Chemical Safety Provisions From OSHA Pending, March 27, 2014, Spartanburg Injury Lawyer Blog

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