For workers in the construction industry, there are numerous hazards on most job sites. Depending on the work site, dangers are posed by heavy machinery and equipment moving about, the omnipresent risk of falls from ladders, scaffolds and any elevated platform, and dangers from electrocution or trench collapses. The construction industry has the dubious title of being one of the most dangerous lines of work, with high levels of worker injuries and fatalities as a result.
But there are additional risks for workers which may be invisible at the time and may lead to deadly occupational diseases years or decades in the future. Construction workers who perform demolition, remodeling or renovation face the potential threat of asbestos exposure on every job site.
Asbestos was used as a component of many buildings constructed in the last century. Millions of homes and offices contain asbestos fibers within the plaster, wallboard, ceiling and floor tiles, in insulation wrapped on pipes and ductwork and placed in walls and attics.
As these buildings reach the end of their useful life, or need to be renovated and updated for current uses, this asbestos must be dealt with. When materials containing asbestos are cut, torn or drilled, the fibers can become aerosolized and once airborne, they can be inhaled by anyone on the site.
Federal regulations detail how asbestos may be abated in buildings, and the protection needed for workers and the special requirements for containing and deposing of the asbestos-contaminated building materials increase the cost of any project.
Unscrupulous contractors will try to save costs by recklessly exposing their workers to these dangers. One Illinois construction company has been recently fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for willful violations, which exposed eight workers to asbestos.
The company has been fined $1,792,000 for these violations, where the company appears to have intentionally hired foreign workers, including those who did not speak English, to remove asbestos from school buildings being renovated. They also threatened workers if they spoke with OSHA’s investigators.
It is not surprising that the employer has had previous history of OSHA violations, had has been subject to 11 inspections in the last nine years.
Source: workerscompensation.com, “Illinois Construction Companies, Manager Face Nearly $2M in Fines for Exposing Workers to Known Asbestos Hazards,” August 11, 2015