Government regulation and worksite monitoring are not always keeping workers who remove asbestos or perform demolition work in older buildings safe, according to a piece of investigative journalism. We recently posted a blog about this issue, which arose when a Seattle-area asbestos-removal company faced fines and loss of licenses for alleged failure to follow safety regulations, potentially exposing their workers and others to deadly asbestos.
The Massachusetts Article
The new exposé, published on December 20, is a joint project of WBUR, a Massachusetts public radio station, and The Eye, the website of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
Because of a Boston boom in building renovation, the article looks at the dangers to workers who do demolition work in old structures containing asbestos in building materials like insulation, tile and fire retardant, and to workers hired by licensed asbestos-removal companies.
The problem is that the mineral is invisible to the naked eye and there is no way to know of its presence, so demolition workers may unknowingly become exposed in the course of work if their employers and the property owners have not diligently determined whether the mineral is present. Even licensed asbestos-abatement companies can expose removal workers if the employers fail to follow safety practices and regulations designed to keep workers safe while carrying out removal contracts.
If microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the air and inhaled, the worker is at risk of developing dangerous and potentially deadly diseases, sometimes decades later, like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
The WBUR piece contains some disturbing findings:
- Evidence suggests that work-safety regulations are not always being followed, resulting in failure to provide adequate protective breathing equipment and hazardous-material clothing, dust-containing curtains, showering facilities, areas for changing out of contaminated clothes, adequate containment for contaminated debris and other dangers.
- Government inspection and monitoring have been sometimes inadequate to police the rising numbers of building projects potentially involving asbestos control and removal.
- Inadequate fines for safety violations (or failure to enforce and collect such fines) are not deterring some employers from lax compliance, leading one work safety researcher to comment that some employers “budget-in fines as the price of doing business.”
- Workers are often undocumented immigrants who are afraid to report violations.
Any worker worried about asbestos exposure should speak with an attorney about potential legal remedies.