The dangers of asbestos exposure are well-documented. Employers have an obligation to get their employees to know about potential asbestos exposure, particularly when renovating older buildings that may still contain dangerous fibers.
Floor replacement at a Missouri residential nursing facility seemed like a standard job. However, the hazards workers faced without being aware of them made the project anything but “run-of-the-mill.”
A startling discovery
A federal workplace safety inspection revealed that three employers at the site made what could be a catastrophic failure that could impact the health of their employees. When planning for the project that took place in late December 2020, they overlooked an important step, specifically the safe removal of asbestos.
After a state agency was forced to evacuate residents of the facility one month later, OSHA launched an inspection that uncovered the employers’ potentially deadly shortcomings:
- Completing an assessment to determine the presence of asbestos
- Failing to warn workers about potential asbestos exposure
- Erecting barriers to keep residue away from workers
- Providing respiratory and personal protective equipment
Samples from 10,000 square feet of floor tiles located at the three worksites revealed between 45 and 51 percent of the materials contained chrysotile asbestos. The resulting collective penalties exceeded $200,000 with more likely to come. However, the future health of the workers has yet to be calculated.
The stakes are far too high for employees who go into a project without knowing the potential dangers. Due diligence and subsequent full disclosure by employers are paramount. While fines and other penalties impact bottom lines and reputations, the message sent is irrelevant to workers exposed to asbestos that comes too late. The damage may have already been done in far too many cases.