State regulators say a Seattle hotel owner who knew his building contained asbestos cut corners to save money by using untrained workers to remove it. As a result, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), which runs the Washington state OSHA program, cited the business for multiple egregious safety and health violations and issued $355,000 in fines for exposing the workers to asbestos hazards. The most severe of the dozen willful violations was for knowingly exposing workers to asbestos during remodeling of the property.
Said Anne Soiza, assistant director of L&I, “It’s unconscionable that anyone would knowingly expose untrained and unprotected works to asbestos. It’s an extremely hazardous material that’s notorious for causing cancer and other serious health issues.” The department began its investigation last July and immediately issued a stop-work order when it was discovered that the asbestos work was being performed by workers who were not trained or certified, as required.
During the lobby renovation, an asbestos-abatement contractor had discovered that much of the ceiling was originally constructed with cement-asbestos board. L&I’s investigation found that the hotel owner had received an estimate from the certified contractor who discovered the issue, but did not hire that firm. Instead, the owner used untrained employees of a roofing contractor and failed to let them know about the presence of asbestos in the ceiling. Ten of the 12 violations carried a penalty of $35,000 each, the maximum allowed for an employer of its size.
In the state of Washington, penalties resulting from citations are placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund. The money assists injured workers and the families of those who have died on the job.