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When fines are not enough to dissuade negligent employers

Workers across North Carolina may be a little familiar with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. People may know that it is an agency involved in improving workplace safety by setting safety guidelines and issuing fines, but what people may not realize is that some employers do not take the threat of OSHA violations as seriously as they should.

When an unsafe condition exists at the workplace, employees are at an increased risk of getting sick or hurt. In order to limit these instances, OSHA frequently issues fines to companies after an accident caused by unsafe work conditions. However, these financial penalties may come too late for workers who have already been exposed to a dangerous situation and suffered the consequences. Additionally, the possibility of fines may not be enough to change a negligence employer's behavior.

For example, the owners of a building that used to be a state hospital knew they were violating workplace safety guidelines when their workers were exposed to asbestos and lead. The property owners were trying to clean up the building so that it could be used for an upcoming event. In their haste to complete the work, they allegedly failed to properly notify workers that there may be asbestos on site and did not give workers any protective equipment which would have prevented them from breathing in the toxic materials.

Employers and property owners who contribute to workers' exposure to asbestos likely have chosen to do so in the interest of saving money or time. They do not want to hire certified abatement workers, provide protective gear or deal with the red tape that can come with renovating or repairing a building with asbestos. They may know they are putting people in danger, but they think the end justifies the means.

In this case, OSHA could issue more than $2.5 million in fines to the company for their serious violations. Unfortunately, the damage to people's health has already been done. The owners put people's lives at risk instead of simply taking the appropriate steps to ensure a safe work environment. In situations like this one, victims may want to speak with an attorney in order to explore their options for litigation and compensation.

Source: Poughkeepsie Journal, "Feds: Olivet knowingly exposed workers to asbestos," Craig Wolf, April 3, 2014

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