In May 2015, a union leader complained about the asbestos removal process in the basement of a county-owned building. William Rutland noticed welfare workers removing asbestos without the proper protective gear, a requirement put into place by the state Labor Department’s Bureau of Public Employee Safety and Health, or PESH.
More recently, PESH investigators determined that eight serious violations took place during the removal, including:
- Failure to determine that there was asbestos in the Shaw Building, the 84-year-old headquarters of the county Health and Mental Health departments.
- Failure to tell employees about the presence of asbestos.
- Two counts of failure to put up warning signs for workers, although the signs desired were worded differently in each count.
- Failure to provide asbestos awareness training to housekeeping and maintenance workers.
- Failure to put the removed asbestos in a proper container.
- Failure to remove the spilled asbestos as soon as possible.
Despite the known dangers associated with asbestos exposure, the county’s Risk and Insurance Director, Jennifer Pitarresi, claimed that the violations ‘weren’t really all that serious.’ PESH reported that workers were instructed to improperly handle the substance by picking it up asbestos on the ground and dispose of it outdoors.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration states that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Any amount of fibers inhaled or digested can lead to serious and fatal asbestos-related diseases. Those that work in construction are at high risk for exposure on the job unless strict procedures are followed – something that was not done at the Niagra County building.
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