Renovators of a former psychiatric center face more than $2.3 million in proposed fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exposing East Coast employees and subcontractors to lead and asbestos hazards.
Our Los Angeles workers’ compensation attorneys know such hazards are equally prevalent during renovation or demolition of older commercial structures here on the West Coast. While those in the construction industry are at highest risk, employees who work in aging commercial structures may also be in danger, particularly during renovation projects. In other cases, dangerous workplace chemicals may subject employees to exposure risks. And OSHA announced late last year it intends to update workplace chemical-handling standards after a public comment period in the coming months.
In this case, an inspection last October found that employees and contractors were exposed to both asbestos and lead while performing cleanup and renovation activities. Lead is an issue in older structures, primarily because of old lead-based paints. Exposure has been linked to a host of health problems, including damage to the nervous system, kidneys and other organs. Wet-measures, increased ventilation and respirators may be required when working with lead, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also has specific guidelines for remediating asbestos. A common building product lauded as economical and flame retardant, asbestos was used in a host of building products – from insulation and roofing shingles to fiber board and drywall compound – well into the 1970s. It is a known carcinogen and the cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the organ lining, asbestosis, as well as lung cancer and a host of other serious respiratory conditions.
“Olivet knew that asbestos and lead were present at this site, yet the company chose to ignore its responsibility to protect its own workers and contractors,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “The intolerable choice this company made put not only workers, but also their families, in danger.”
OSHA found the company failed to take basic safety precautions and took no steps to warn employees and subcontractors about the dangers of lead and asbestos exposure. The proposed $2.3 million fine includes 45 willful violations.
In addition to the dangers of lead and asbestos, OSHA continues to emphasize chemical safety and exposure issues in the workplace. OSHA currently regulates exposure to more than 400 substances. In California, it approves and monitors state-run safety guidelines. OSHA and the EPA track more than 62,000 chemicals through the Toxic Substance Control Act. Material Safety Data Sheets are maintained on more than 100,000 substances. At least 320 employees were killed by exposure to harmful events and substances in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Twenty-two of those deaths occurred in California, more than anywhere else in the nation except Florida and Texas.
Exposure deaths are the 4th-leading cause of workplace fatalities, after traffic accidents, violence, falls and contact with objects or equipment. Education and adherence to safety standards are the leading methods of prevention.