Asbestos is a powerful, but harmful, mineral and it is potentially lurking everywhere. The carcinogenic fiber is resistant to heat, water, chemicals, and electricity. It is all around us - inside roofing materials and household products, and inside schools, shipyards, subway trains, and cars. While it has been about 40 years since the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) started to regulate asbestos concentrations in the workplace, many Americans are still at risk for dangerous exposure today.
Asbestos: Where Is It?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission lists these places and products where asbestos has been found:
- Steam pipes, boilers, and furnace ducts.
- Floor tiles, including the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile.
- Cement sheet, millboard, and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves.
- Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves.
- Soundproofing material sprayed on walls and ceilings.
- Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints.
- Asbestos cement roofing, shingles, and siding.
- Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces.
- Automotive brake pads and linings, clutch facings, and gaskets.
Holding Employers Accountable for Workplace Exposure - Recent OSHA Violations
Mesothelioma and other diseases related to asbestos exposure commonly affect hard-working men and women who are unaware that their employers may have knowingly put them at risk. Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they attach onto the lining of the lungs, and can cause cancer cells to form 20-to-50 years later.
In 1997, OSHA enacted laws that limit the presence of asbestos to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter at any jobsite. According to these regulations, employers are required to provide safe working conditions as well as protective clothing and equipment to employees working with or around asbestos. Privately-owned companies in Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania are just a few of the businesses in recent years that face hefty OSHA fines for failing to protect their employees from asbestos exposure.
In April 2015, OSHA cited 7 willful violations against First Capital Insulation Inc., a Pennsylvania-based insulation company, for not adequately protecting its workers from asbestos. It’s understood that any OSHA violation is serious. However, if death or injury results from a hazard an employer knew about or should have known about, the violation is even more serious. “Willful” violation indicates that the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or that the employer acted with plain indifference to employee safety. In this case, OSHA stated that First Capital Insulation Inc. did not ensure “employees’ respirators fit correctly and did not decontaminate employees and their clothing before they left the work site.” First Capital Insulation faces a $500,000 in fines.
In December 2014, six Chicago-area companies were named in a series of workplace violations involving the renovation of a middle school cafeteria in Evanston, IL, where workers were exposed to asbestos and other hazards. Workplace citations from OSHA included:
- Ten serious violations against F.E. Moran Inc. – According to OSHA, F.E. Moran Inc. was directed to remove 60-feet of piping that contained asbestos insulation. Inspection teams discovered that the company did not require its employees to “implement engineering controls to limit asbestos exposure” or to wear personal protective equipment while cutting pipes.
- Two willful violations against Environmental Services Firm Inc. for failing to conduct air sampling and an initial exposure assessment.
- Two serious violations against ASAP Environmental Inc. for inadequate exposure monitoring and supervision of asbestos removal.
- Nicholas & Associates Inc., the general contractor on-site, was cited for directing F.E. Moran's employees to cut pipes containing asbestos without required precautions.
- One serious violation against B.B. Construction Enterprises Inc. for failing to collect and properly dispose of debris from the asbestos removal.
- Four serious violations against DeKalb Mechanical Inc. for exposing workers to lead-based paint and other hazards.
OSHA handed out another hefty fine to Olivet Management LLC, a New York-based real estate development and management company. Olivet received a fine of $2.3 Million following a renovation and cleanup project inside a psychiatric center. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an inspection found that Olivet employees and contractors were exposed to asbestos while removing contaminated floor tiles and insulation without proper protection or warning. The total fine to Olivet included documentation of 45 willful violations.
Asbestos exposure in the workplace is more than a lingering legacy; it is a dangerous problem that still exists today. OSHA encourages anyone to learn more about asbestos exposure by obtaining the following publications at its OSHA Publications Office, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Room N3101, Washington, D.C. 20210:
- Chemical Hazard Communication (OSHA 3084)
- How to Prepare For Workplace Emergencies (OSHA 3088)
- Job Hazard Analysis (OSHA 3071)
- 29 CFR Part 1960, Basic Program Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Programs and Related Matters