Employers are expected to keep their employees safe if and when they need to complete work that exposes them to harmful chemicals or substances. Unfortunately, not all employers do this and workers end up paying the price. In some cases, toxic exposure to materials like asbestos leads to devastating illnesses like mesothelioma.
This is the threat maintenance workers at a veterans' hospital are dealing with after it was discovered they have been working, unprotected, with asbestos. It took the actions of a whistleblower and a federal investigation to uncover the unsafe and potentially illegal actions of the medical center managers.
According to reports, several employees at the medical center have potentially been exposed to toxic asbestos including plumbers, pipe fitters and other maintenance workers.
A whistleblower who reported the situation stated that hospital employers and managers did not give these workers proper notice about working with asbestos and they were not provided with any protective equipment to minimize exposure. The whistleblower also stated that managers knew about the asbestos but regularly had workers performing jobs with asbestos anyway.
A federal investigation was launched and found that workers were exposed to asbestos because they were not properly protected from breathing in the fibers. However, it could not be confirmed that hospital employers knew about the asbestos, which is what the whistleblower is alleging. The inspector's office did make a number of recommendations for how jobs in the future should be performed if asbestos is involved.
Unfortunately for the workers who have already been exposed, the damage may already be done. Asbestos fibers can get lodged in a person's lungs where they may not cause any problems for decades and then seemingly in the blink of an eye, symptoms of a serious illness may start showing up. By this point, sadly, there is no way to undo the damage and a person can already be quite sick.
This is why it is so crucial for employers to comply with strict asbestos-handling procedures and inform workers of any potential health risks. Failing to do that can have extensive and devastating consequences. If you have concerns about asbestos exposure on the job, it can be crucial to get medical attention first and then speak with an attorney if you wish to pursue benefits and/or compensation.
Source: San Antonio Express-News, "SA whistleblower says VA hospital exposed workers to asbestos," Sig Christenson, Sept. 11, 2015