General contractor William A. Berry & Son was hired to remove asbestos from Boston-based Beth Israel Hospital in September of 2009.
OSHA, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has very specific regulations surrounding asbestos removal from public buildings. For OSHA, the rules are outlined via a four-step classification process, with Class I being the removal of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) contained in thermal system insulation, and Class IV involving actual ACM cleanup.
The EPA outlines rules and regulations under two protocols: NESHAP (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants), which applies to public buildings, and AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act), which applies to all schools.
OSHA is planning to assess $136,000 in fines against Berry & Son for what the agency says are 19 violations of workplace health and safety standards OSHA was created to insure.
Asbestos, which is regulated under the Clean Air Act as a hazardous chemical because it is a carcinogen, is the primary cause of asbestosis, though generally only after long exposure. It also causes lung cancer. Most importantly, a single exposure can cause mesothelioma, according to OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control, and the American Cancer Society, which jointly agree that there is no safe level of exposure when it comes to this dread disease that progressively, but silently, invades mesothelial tissues and vital organs – sometimes for up to five decades – before producing the symptoms that send sufferers to a doctor.
Berry & Son, which was bought out by Suffolk Construction in 2009, apparently worked at Beth Israel removing laboratory ventilation hoods that contained asbestos panels. Unfortunately, the work was done without proper equipment and without enacting required safeguards like space enclosure, negative air pressure machines, and air sampling to prevent asbestos fibers from spreading.
The firm also failed to conduct an initial asbestos assessment, provide a decontamination area where workers could remove and change clothing, use HEPA-filtration vacuums to clean up debris, label containers holding the debris, train employees in asbestos removal, and provide oversight via a licensed asbestos remediation professional.
The 19 counts include one willful citation, for not setting up a regulated remediation area, which incurred a $55,000 fine, and 17 violations recorded as “serious”, for another $80,000 in fines. A final citation and fine of $1,000 has been levied because Berry failed to give OSHA illness and injury logs within the designated time period when they become due after violations are discovered.
A willful violation, according to OSHA, is something done with intentional disregard or actual indifference for worker safety and health. Serious citations are given when there is a potential for death or serious physical harm as result of unintentional negligence concerning health hazards like asbestos.
Berry & Son has until March 16 to either engage in settlement talks with OSHA, comply, or contest the findings before Braintree, Massachusetts-area OSHA officials. Braintree is the regional OSHA headquarters.
Sources: OSHA, OSHOnline.com, EHSO.com