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The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Heath Administration (OSHA) has proposed fines to Joseph Kehrer for knowingly exposing workers to asbestos at his Kerhrer Brothers Construction and D7 Roofing companies.
According to OSHA inspectors, Kehrer withheld information about the asbestos the workers were removing from an Okawville school. In addition, Kehrer didn’t train them on how to remove the materials safely, nor did he provide them with appropriate tools and equipment for the abatement process.
Throughout American history, many workers, across a variety of industries, have been exposed to asbestos on the job. Industries like shipbuilding, mining, construction, and many others exposed their workers to asbestos every day. Some 30 million pounds of the toxic material is still used each year in the U.S.
Asbestos exposure can lead to a variety of health problems, including cancer such as mesothelioma. When asbestos, a known human carcinogen, is inhaled, the microscopic fibers become lodged in the lung tissue damaging the tissue and potentially leading to asbestos-related diseases.
Most of the affected employees working for Kehrer were immigrant workers, who didn’t speak English, and held temporary status under the H-2B visa program. This program allows employers to hire workers from countries outside of America if they cannot find anyone domestically to perform the work.
OSHA claims Kehrer threatened to fire employees if they chose to speak with OSHA investigators, which would cause them to be deported. “This guy had full control of them. He was providing them housing and transportation. They were at his mercy and it was unacceptable how he treated them,” said Scott Allen, spokesman for OSHA.
Fortunately, some of Kehrer’s workers did speak up. But if they hadn’t, Kehrer might’ve gotten away with his unlawful actions. If six months passed, then, by law, OSHA would not have been able to complete an investigation.
“We’re discussing whether to refer the matter to the Justice Department for possible criminal charges,” said Allen. Another OSHA spokeswoman, Rhonda Burke, thinks eight or more workers were exposed, yet most have already departed from the U.S.
Kehrer Brothers Construction has performed work at numerous local schools as well as the Scottrade Center.
In fact, the company was cited for violating health and safety regulations six times in the past eight years. Most would close out with Kehrer negotiating down to a much less serious violation and paying out $800 to $2,000 in fines.
But in 2012, the company was ordered to pay $12,500 and in 2013, a total of $30,800 for failure to abide by laws. “If a company gets cited year after year, that is not a good safety record or something to be proud of,” said Allen.
The $30,800 fine was contested by Kehrer and the appeal remains open. Kehrer has until August 28 to contest this new asbestos exposure penalty.