Joseph Kehrer and Kehrer Brothers Construction face $1.79 million in fines for “willfully exposing” eight workers to asbestos. A Kehrer-affiliated company, D7 Roofing, also faces $147,000 in penalties.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a release this week that Joseph Kehrer, Kehrer Brothers Construction and D7 Roofing employed the non-English-speaking Latino workers and told them to remove asbestos-containing materials during a school renovation. They also allegedly threatened the workers that they would be fired if they spoke to government inspectors.
OSHA has inspected Kehrer Brothers Construction jobs 11 times since 2007, the release said. This time, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in the release, “we at OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure the employer stops endangering his employees.”
Many of the employees came to work for Kehrer Brothers under the provisions of the H-2B visa program, which permits businesses to temporarily hire foreign workers. "Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos," Michaels said.
Large government penalties often are designed to make an example out of a severe offender and prevent other contractors from willfully committing the same violations, which Michaels, in this case, called “outrageous, illegal behavior.”
The case serves as a reminder to contractors that OSHA requires employers with jobs involving asbestos to:
- Warn and train employees — in a language they can understand — of the hazards of cutting and sanding asbestos-containing materials.
- Ensure that workers wear respirators.
- Properly handle the asbestos, which can cause lung disease, cancer and eventual death if inhaled. For example, workers should remove asbestos-containing tiles intact and wet the material to keep it from becoming airborne.
- Provide protective eyewear and clothing.
- Set up a decontamination area where employees can remove their contaminated work clothes before they leave the job site.