A.M. Castle Exposes Workers to Asbestos Hazards

by Sokolove Law

A.M. Castle & Company, also known as Castle Metals, is a huge name in the metals and plastics industries. Castle’s goods are sold across the globe, and facilities are located throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. This year alone, A.M. Castle’s net sales are greater than $422 Million.

Castle Metals has all the makings of a successful manufacturing business, but a closer look at its operations reveals a track record of asbestos-related OSHA violations. In the short span of 4 years, Castle’s Franklin Park facility has exposed its workers to dozens of asbestos hazards.

Between 2011 and 2013, this particular Franklin Park branch was cited for 22 serious violations of asbestos exposure. In April of this year, once more the Franklin Park branch came under fire for exposing workers to asbestos. If certain measures are not taken to change Castle Metals’ current operational standards and procedures, the company will continue to expose its hardworking men and women to asbestos, a known carcinogen, and OSHA’s fines will never end.

Franklin Park Branch Cited for 9 Workplace Violations

On March 24, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited A.M. Castle with 9 violations of exposing workers to dangerous asbestos hazards. The citations came after OSHA received an employee complaint alleging several safety and health incidents, including: occupational exposure to asbestos, insufficient training for employees on asbestos in the workplace, and lack of permit-required confined space procedures. After the complaint, OSHA investigated A.M Castle for approximately 4 months before it issued its citations.

According to Angeline Loftus, an OSHA area director, “A.M. Castle has a responsibility to train its workers in the hazards of being exposed to asbestos and confined spaces. Asbestos exposure can cause long-term and irreversible damage to the lungs. A.M. Castle needs to re-evaluate this facility and correct these hazards immediately.”

Of the 9 citations, 5 were classified as “serious.” According to an OSHA spokeswoman, “serious” abuses are those in which “death or serious harm could exist from a hazard [the company] did or should have known existed.” Castle Metals’ serious infractions included:

  • Not posting danger signs or notifying employees of a permit-required confined space.
  • Not developing and implementing a written permit-required confined space entry program.
  • Failing to inform employees that asbestos might be in areas in which they work.
  • Failing to ensure training on asbestos in accordance with OSHA standards.
  • Failing to provide annual asbestos training to employees involved in Class IV asbestos operations.

The Franklin Park branch was also cited for two repeated violations for: (1) not providing awareness training to employees on asbestos hazards; and, (2) not making employees fully aware on OSHA’s asbestos standards.

Much of the frustration related to the current citations lies in the fact that the Franklin Park branch has been under this spotlight before – and nothing has changed. The branch has repeatedly exposed workers to dangerous workplace conditions. This reflects poorly not just on the individual branch, but on the entire reputation of A.M. Castle as a publicly-traded business and a leading plastic and metals provider across the globe. In the past 4 years, Castle’s Franklin Park branch has been charged with over 30 asbestos-related abuses. This year’s charges only prove that asbestos exposure continues in Franklin Park, and it continues at little cost to Castle Metals.

Following the branch’s 20 violations in 2011, it received $63,500 in fines. This amount was eventually paid. After the Franklin Park’s 2012 citations, A.M. Castle paid a total of $8,400 in fines. With the branch’s most recent violations, OSHA proposed that A.M. Castle pay $59,720 in fines. According to Scott Allen, Regional Director for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, this amount was reduced to $33,000 by means of an informal settlement agreement. A.M. Castle has paid this amount.

The fines imposed by OSHA, however, are next to nothing for Castle Metals, a company valued at close to $60 Million that continues to sell hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of products each year. For all of the branch’s safety infractions, it has only paid a total of $104,900 in fines, a figure that represents a meager .02% of A.M. Castle’s total sales for 2015 alone.

Asbestos exposure continues to form a very real hazard for today’s workers. Innocent employees continue to suffer unfair and dangerous workplace conditions, despite rising profits and earnings by employers.

Asbestos Exposure in Today’s Workplace

While the use of asbestos in the U.S., and asbestos exposure in the workplace, has declined in the past 50 years, it’s important to note that it is still being used – as the mineral is not yet banned. The heyday of asbestos use spanned 40 years, from approximately the late 1930s through the end of the 1970s. During this time, asbestos was traditionally found in such products as: insulation, auto parts, floor/ceiling tiles, paints, joint compound, roofing materials, and small appliances. According to estimates by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asbestos was so prevalent in the workplace that 11 million people were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1978.

Although manufacturers were aware of the dangers of asbestos for decades, the rest of the country only began to understand the real, life-threatening dangers of asbestos in the 1970s. Until then, much of the general public did not know that exposure to asbestos led to such diseases as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Soon after this knowledge was public, there were movements to ban certain products in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency banned most – but not all – asbestos-containing products and the use of asbestos in the U.S. was largely halted. Further, throughout the 1970s, the federal government established organizations like OSHA and the EPA, and tasked them with the goal to protect workers from dangerous occupational hazards such as asbestos exposure.

Despite movements toward safer and healthier work environments, asbestos exposure is still a real occurrence in the workplace today. Sadly, the employees at A.M. Castle’s Franklin Park branch are not the only employees facing exposure to asbestos hazards. In February 2015, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) cited two companies, CPM Development Corp. and Pacific Recycling Inc., for a total of 4 violations related to improper asbestos-removal work.

More local to this particular A.M. Castle branch, as recently as August 2015, OSHA cited three other Illinois companies for asbestos violations during their work on a renovation project. The agency cited Kehrer Brothers Construction and Joseph Kehrer for a total of 31 violations pertaining to asbestos exposure. OSHA also cited the company, D7 Roofing, for 3 violations involving not training or informing workers about the presence of asbestos-containing material. In total, all three companies face a proposed fine that nears $2 Million. This fine has yet to be paid.

In 2014, the fourth-most frequently cited OSHA violation pertained to respiratory protection. This is a violation related to employers not ensuring workers wear proper respirators to protect themselves against such elements as microscopic asbestos fibers. 2014 also shows that “asbestos-related violations” ranked third among OSHA’s “top 10” willful violations for that year. OSHA defines a “willful” violation as one “committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and requirements.”

Profits Grow – But at What Cost to Workers?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), asbestos exposure can lead to a heightened risk of acquiring a multitude of deadly diseases. It is directly linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Over 3,200 mesothelioma diagnoses are made annually in the U.S., and asbestos exposure is the only known cause of this rare and fatal disease. In 2013, 2,497 people died of mesothelioma. According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “10,000 Americans will die this year of asbestos-related diseases (including lung cancer and mesothelioma).”

These are shocking numbers – and it’s no secret that manufacturers knew of the dangers of asbestos for years, but chose to hide it. They looked for cheaper ways to do business in the hopes of maximizing profits. History shows that the U.S. has come a long way in terms of protecting workers from the dangers of asbestos exposure, but in reality the exposure still continues – and there is still a long way to go. Employers continue to turn their backs on the safety of their employees, all in the name of profit.

Populations and professions most affected by mesothelioma include: members of the military, auto mechanics, firefighters, mining personnel, pipefitters, plumbers, railroad workers and welders. These are some of the hardest and most-valued workers in the country. Military members and firefighters alone are considered “heroes” to so many, especially the youth. We applaud their commitment and service and we acknowledge their standard towards bravery and excellence. But yet, large businesses continue to sacrifice these heroes’ health and safety for profits.

In 2014, there were 13 executives at A.M. Castle. Alone these executives made nearly $2.5 Million in profits for the fiscal year. By profits, this means that the executives deposited this money directly into their checking and savings accounts. While executives made these large sums of money, innocent employees – plant workers, metal workers, and other laborers – were exposed to dangerous and life-threatening work conditions. These workers will have to live the rest of their lives worrying about whether the level of asbestos they were exposed to could actually kill them or cause them sickness. A.M. Castle’s executives most likely will never come close to these same considerations.

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