Federal prosecutors recently turned their attention to an Illinois construction company that was fined last year for putting Mexican workers who couldn’t understand English in harm’s way by regularly exposing them to asbestos.
FOX News Latino reports that in 2015, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) handed down a hefty fine to construction company, Kehrer Brothers Construction, and its owner Joseh Kehrer, after numerous Latino workers were exposed to high amounts of asbestos. The company was fined $1.8 million for allowing workers to remove asbestos from the former Okawville Grade School without providing them safety training and safety gear.
Along with a hefty fine, Department of Labor (DOL) spokesperson, Rhonda Burke, stated that the owner may also face criminal charges. While federal prosecutors are investigating the incident, OSHA proceedings are place on hold, at least for the the time being.
“The Department of Labor filed an unopposed motion for a stay of proceedings because the U.S. Attorney made the decision to conduct a criminal investigation. So right now, the Department of Labor’s allegations against Kehrer are on hold, while the Justice Department finishes their investigation.”
Clyde Kuehn, defense attorney for Kehrer, confirmed that federal prosecutors, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are indeed investigating his client. However, the attorney stated that it’s common routine, although he’s against OSHA’s findings.
“The reason these citations are being contested is that there are some very significant disagreements on the facts of this case. OSHA’s position on the facts is much different from Mr. Kehrer’s position. We’re trying to work toward having an opportunity to lay that out.”
Kuehn also said that the witnesses interviewed were confused as to why OSHA is claiming they removed friable asbestos without safety gear. Apparently, OSHA still hasn’t provided the lawyer with the discovery.
When OSHA announced the fines last year, it stated the Kehrer was guilty of 16 violations, 9 of which were considered willful and 6 considered severe. According to assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels,
“Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos. Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators. This is outrageous, illegal behavior. We at OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure this employer stops endangering his employees.”
Some of the violations Kehrer was fined for include:
- Failure to provide basic safety equipment and gear to workers
- Failure to provide a “decontamination area,” where workers could clean up and remove their asbestos-laden clothing
- Failure to use wetting methods and other techniques that can reduce the amount of asbestos exposure that workers faced
- Failure to properly train workers
- Failure to notify workers they would be working around asbestos
- Failure to conduct required inspections
So far, the company hasn’t paid any of its fine. If you suspect anyone or any company is in violation of asbestos laws, contact OSHA at 800-321-OSHA (6742). Asbestos exposure has been linked to toxic, life-threatening illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer. People who may have been exposed to asbestos should seek immediate medical treatment. There are generally no apparent symptoms after inhaling or ingesting asbestos. Symptoms may remain dormant for up to 50 years after exposure.
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