Tuesday, June 28, 2011

OSHA Penalizes Manufacturer For Allegedly Assigning Untrained Workers To Asbestos Removal

An Illinois company has been issued penalties of $1.2 million by federal workplace safety regulators for allegedly requiring five workers to undertake an in-house asbestos removal project without proper training or protection. Asbestos is a toxic material that causes respiratory disease including lung cancer and mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen. Federal law strictly regulates the handling of asbestos to prevent human exposure to asbestos dust.

It’s a reminder that remodeling and demolition activities are one of the most common ways that workers risk are exposed to airborne asbestos fibers today. Asbestos removal should only be undertaken by workers trained and certified in handling asbestos safely.

According to a U.S. Department of Labor press release issued this week, AMD Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of merchandising displays in Cicero, Ill., received 19 willful and eight serious health citations following an inspection of the facility by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA issues a willful violation when an employer has allegedly demonstrated an intentional disregard for the law or plain indifference to worker safety and health.

“AMD failed in its duty to protect the health and safety of its workers,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in a statement. “Such disregard will not be tolerated by the Labor Department. No one should risk serious injury of death to earn a paycheck.”

OSHA investigators found that AMD had done a safety audit of its Cicero facility in 2002 and detected the presence of asbestos-containing materials on boilers, piping and heating units. In November 2010, AMD began an in-house asbestos removal program using workers who had not been trained to handle asbestos safely or wear protective gear. The workers allegedly were exposed to materials containing 20 percent to 50 percent chrysotile asbestos, according to OSHA.

“Asbestos exposure is deadly,” Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health said in a statement. “AMD Industries knew it was assigning workers to asbestos removal work and failed to take the most basic safety precautions. This employer did not provide protective respirators or even warn the workers of the risk to their health.”

Asbestos was widely used in insulation and building materials in the U.S. until the late 1970s. Many older factories and houses contain asbestos that will eventually be removed. OSHA issued 19 willful citations for AMD’s alleged failure to provide the employees with the proper training and protective equipment, failure to monitor air concentration asbestos or monitor employees’ exposure. Proper protective clothing and respirators are essential to prevent workers from inhaling asbestos or carrying asbestos dust home on their clothing and hair and exposing their families to the cancer-causing mineral fiber.

AMD has 15 business days to contest the citations, which were dated May 24.

Approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Most are workers exposed to asbestos in workplaces and through occupational hazards. The symptoms of asbestos-related disease typically take 20 to 40 years to appear.