Federal authorities have hit two Illinois-based construction companies with nearly $2 million in fines for knowingly exposing their workers to deadly asbestos fibers during the renovation of a school building.
Kehrer Brothers Construction and owner Joseph Kehrer, and D7 Roofing, a Kehrer-affiliated company, made their workers rip up old asbestos-laden tiles, insulation, and other materials at the old elementary school without warning them of the asbestos hazards, providing them with the required protective gear, or training them on proper asbestos-removal methods.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA), Kehrer even threatened workers with termination if they spoke with OSHA inspectors. Many of the workers, OSHA said, were brought in on the H-2B Visa program that allows companies to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis. Many of the affescted workers don’t speak English and had no idea what dangers they faced in working for Kehrer.
“Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos,” said assistant OSHA secretary of labor Dr. David Michaels. “Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators. This is outrageous, illegal behavior.”
According to OSHA, Kehrer failed to provide workers with basic protective equipment, such as hard hats, eyewear, respirators, and protective clothing. The company also failed to create a decontamination area for employees to remove work clothing before leaving the worksite. Additionally, Kehrer neglected to use appropriate work methods to minimize asbestos exposure, such as removing tiles intact and using moisture to keep asbestos fibers from becoming airborne.
Asbestos exposure occurs when workers cut and sand materials made with asbestos, which releases asbestos fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested without the proper protection. Once in the lungs or swallowed, asbestos can cause lung disease and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung or stomach that is nearly always fatal. Asbestos fibers also remain on clothing and transfer to upholstery, carpets, furniture, and other surfaces, which creates a serious danger of secondary exposure for others.
OSHA cited Kehrer Brothers Construction and Joseph Kehrer with 16 egregious, nine willful, and six serious violations with fines of $1,792,000. D7 Roofing was cited for one serious and two willful violations for exposing workers to asbestos. That company faces $147,000 in fines.