Asbestos abatement companies in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area regularly flout safety regulations, according to a report released Nov. 16 by the Laborers’ International Union.
The report was the product of a year-long undercover investigation conducted by a local college student, Ernest Ojito, with support from LIUNA.
Ojito alleged that workers were routinely exposed to airborne asbestos, safety violations occurred regularly, contractors ignored licensing and training requirements, contractors polluted the water supply with lead, and training facilities provided workers with answers to licensing exams.
“What the investigation reveals is a lack of oversight”by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Steve Lanning, a union representative, said Nov. 16 at a press conference announcing the findings. “This crisis demands immediate reforms. We must focus on enforcement of
current safety rules.”
Scott Schneider, director of occupational safety and health at the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of America, urged reforms of OSHA’s asbestos standard that would require companies to inform the agency when they begin a project involving exposures to the mineral.
Workers Detail Violations
Ojito recounted several jobs during which employers allegedly endangered him and co-workers, including a demolition at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.
He said his contractor, WMS Solutions, did not inform him he would need to abate asbestos hazards that day. Nonetheless, his subcontractor, Potomac Abatement, allegedly directed him to remove asbestos-containing materials despite the fact that he had no protective equipment, training, or
knowledge of the hazards.
WMS Solutions did not respond to a BNA request for comment. Telephone numbers listed for Potomac Abatement appeared to be disconnected.
In another instance at the U.S. Capitol Power Plant, Asbestos Specialists Inc., another WMS Solutions subcontractor, allegedly instructed Ojito to dispose of lead paint down a water drain. Ojito said that when he reported the violations to the Environmental Protection Agency, the company fired him.
“It’s a process-over-people industry,” Ojito said. “The industry has been an eye-opener for me. Workers are endangered daily and they don’t even know it. Nobody’s reporting anything.”
The union identified a lack of enforcement by federal OSHA and Virginia and Maryland agencies as the primary reason violations occur.
Each state only has three inspectors to police the entire industry, Lanning said, calling it an impossible task.
“This crisis demands immediate reforms. We must focus on enforcement of safety rules,” he said.
The union called on the states to increase maximum fines to the federal standard of $25,000, and allow those fines to be used to support the state enforcement agencies.
In addition, asbestos workers should receive a list of their rights at the beginning of every job; licensing exams should be independently monitored; and revocation of a company’s license should be an enforcement option, the union added.
Legislators from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., who attended the press conference pledged to press for the reforms, although they did not present any specific legislation.
“My commitment is to make sure Maryland and D.C. will enforce the laws and ensure these types of exposures aren’t happening,”said Maryland state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County).
The LIUNA report may be accessed at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=sbra-8nnsst.
Source: Daily Labor Report: News Archive > 2011 > November > 11/17/2011 > News > Safety & Health: Baltimore-Washington Asbestos Contractors Flout Safety Standards, Union Report Says 222 DLR A-7
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