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Asbestos violations: What you don't tell workers will hurt them

If you watch home renovation shows at all, you will be familiar with the scene. The contractor and homeowners are tearing down walls of a decades-old "craftsman" home. Sledge hammers fly, plaster and drywall crumble as the team works to achieve that open concept the homeowners want so badly. Suddenly, the contractor stops. He holds up a hand -- the homeowners pause and look at him with concern. "That's not good," he says. How much will this cost, whatever it is? Commercial break.

The problem is, without a doubt, either toxic black mold or asbestos. Poorly executed home improvements are responsible for the mold, but, when it comes to asbestos, it's just a risk anyone takes with an older home. Or any older building, really. The contractor calls in professional abatement teams and halts all work on the project until the abatement is completed.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, two companies working on a project in southern Illinois were not as careful. These companies knew that the old school was built with asbestos-laden materials, but they deliberately kept that information from workers. OSHA has cited each company for multiple violations -- in fact, one companies' violations were so egregious that OSHA is considering filing criminal charges.

OSHA investigators found the other employer, a roofing company, had willfully violated federal regulations by neither informing their workers of the asbestos nor training their workers to handle materials containing asbestos. The agency also cited the company for not conducting legally mandated inspections. In all, the violations earned the company a $147,000 fine.

The other contractor, though, is in much deeper trouble. While the roofing company was hit with three violations, the contractor was cited for 40 violations. Investigators said the workers were not informed about the risk of asbestos, were not trained on how to handle hazardous materials an were not provided with protective equipment or clothing.

The company also failed to employ demolition methods that would have reduced the risk of asbestos exposure. There was apparently no effort to minimize the amount of asbestos that became airborne or to keep the asbestos from contaminating adjacent areas.

This is the company that may face criminal charges. Before that happens, though, the company has to deal with OSHA's $1.8 million fine.

Why is the fine so high? We'll explain in our next post.

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