Construction companies face nearly $2M fine over asbestos
Two construction companies in southern Illinois face fines totaling $1.9 million after they were accused of exposing workers to cancer-causing asbestos, according to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“The law is that all workers in the United States have a right to a safe workplace,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a phone interview. “The size of the fine is a statement about the gravity of the situation. These workers will carry the increased risk of cancer for the rest of their lives.”
Michaels said OSHA rarely imposes such large fines and it is considering filing criminal charges against the company with the Justice Department.
By comparison, last year, six companies accused of exposing workers to asbestos, lead and electrical hazards while renovating a school cafeteria in Evanston faced a combined fine of more than $132,000. Separately, a company accused last year of failing to collect and dispose of asbestos-containing material from a Chicago historical firehouse faced a fine of $46,000.
The fines against downstate companies Kehrer Brothers Construction and D7 Roofing stem from an OSHA investigation earlier this year at a school in Okawville, near St. Louis. Investigators found that the companies violated labor law when they directed several workers to remove materials that contained asbestos.
The workers were not provided training on hazardous materials or given basic safety equipment like helmets, OSHA said. Furthermore, the companies did not comply with rules to remove asbestos, exposing workers to high concentrations of the minerals, OSHA added.
OSHA said many of the workers were immigrants with H-2B visas, which allow companies to temporarily hire foreign workers.
Asbestos exposure occurs when workers cut and sand building materials with asbestos, releasing fibers that can be inhaled. Asbestos can cause lung disease and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung or stomach that is nearly always fatal, OSHA said.
Kehrer Brothers, based in Albers, faces a fine of about $1.8 million for 40 violations. The company, which has been fined in previous years, was placed in OSHA’s severe violator enforcement program, which includes follow-up inspections.
New Baden-based D7 Roofing was fined $147,000 for three violations.
Kehrer Brothers and D7 didn’t respond to calls for comment. The companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citation to pay the fine, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the citation.