OSHA Hits Companies With Large Fines Over Asbestos, Makes Cross-Agency Referrals

OSHA signaled a willingness to take tough enforcement action and widely publicize alleged willful infractions of the agency’s asbestos standards, hitting two Illinois construction companies and a manager with nearly $2 million in proposed fines, alleging numerous violations of the longstanding regulations.

One of the employers was also entered into OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), and the agency made cross-referrals of the company to the Environmental Protection Agency and Small Business Administration.

The investigation found Joseph Kehrer, Kehrer Brothers Construction and a Kehrer-affiliated company, D7 Roofing, which employed some of the workers, in alleged violation of numerous OSHA health standards related to asbestos, according to a statement Tuesday (Aug. 11) from OSHA.

Kehrer Brothers and Joseph Kehrer face $1,792,000 in penalties, with OSHA charging they willfully exposed at least eight workers to asbestos. Inspectors allege Kehrer and supervisors of the Albers, IL-based company told employees to remove asbestos-containing materials during renovation of a former school. OSHA placed Kehrer Brothers in SVEP along with issuing the citations.

OSHA suggests the alleged violations were exacerbated by the fact that many of the workers came to the United States to work for Kehrer under the H-2B visa program that allows companies to hire foreign workers temporarily. OSHA also alleges that the Kehrer management threatened some workers with termination if they spoke with OSHA inspectors.

“Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos,” OSHA chief David Michaels said. “Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators. This is outrageous, illegal behavior. We at OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure this employer stops endangering his employees.”

OSHA on Aug. 10 cited Kehrer and Kehrer Brothers, alleging 16 egregious, nine willful and six serious violations. OSHA inspectors also claim Kehrer and the companies failed to warn employees, some of whom spoke only Spanish, of the danger even though the employers were aware of the asbestos hazard. They also failed to ensure that workers used appropriate work methods and respirators, and to train them about the hazards of working around asbestos, OSHA said.

The agency alleges that Kehrer and Kehrer Brothers Construction failed to: provide basic personal protective equipment such as hard hats, eyewear and protective clothing; create a decontamination area for employees to remove work clothing before leaving the work site; and use appropriate work methods to minimize asbestos exposure, such as removing tiles intact and using wet methods to keep asbestos fibers from becoming airborne.

OSHA said Kehrer Brothers Construction has an extensive prior history with OSHA and has been inspected 11 times since 2007.

OSHA also cited D7 Roofing for one serious and two willful alleged violations. The willful citations were for allegedly not training the workers or informing them about the presence of asbestos-containing material, and the serious citation was for allegedly failing to conduct inspections as required by law. Those proposed penalties total $147,000.

Joseph Kehrer could not be reached for comment Friday. A company principal at D7 Roofing also could not be reached. — Christopher Cole (ccole@iwpnews.com)