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Complaint says Md. asbestos removal company endangers workers

A Baltimore-based asbestos removal company has been accused of failing to protect employees from health hazards associated with the substance. An advocacy group has filed a complaint with the federal government on behalf of the workers.

Attorneys with the Public Justice Center said the company required its employees to pay for their own medical exams, training and protective equipment, including gloves, goggles and respirators. Costs were deducted from the paychecks of workers who didn't pay up front. Although not a technical workers' compensation claim, the complaint requests that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigate the company and reimburse workers who had to pay hundreds of dollars to ensure their own safety.

Maryland's General Assembly is also addressing the asbestos issue. Bills that would add protections for asbestos workers are pending in the House and Senate and supported by the Public Justice Center. The bills would also raise penalties for companies that violate environmental laws.

More than a dozen current and past employees have signed onto the complaint, which was filed on behalf of all the companies' workers. Considering the high turnover rate at the company, which works with contractors in four states, the result of the complaint could affect thousands of people. One worker who signed onto the complaint says he worked for the company for six years until he was fired after complaining to OSHA about the working conditions.

Among the specifics of the complaint are claims that workers at some sites were forced to wash and reuse respirator filters. At other sites, there were no established decontamination areas with shower facilities. In some cases, the complaint says, government inspectors were misled by being shown shower facilities that weren't hooked up to a water source.

Asbestos is a highly dangerous substance that has been linked to causing cancer and other diseases. The General Assembly bills aim to protect workers from asbestos by increasing the maximum penalty for violating environmental regulations and establishing an Asbestos Worker Protection Fund to ensure the laws are enforced. One legislator who supports the bills said some companies are exploiting workers who are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

These workers shouldn't have to remain silent and risk their health in exchange for their livelihood. Those looking for information on filing a claim might consider consulting an attorney who focuses on workers' compensation to make sure their rights are protected.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Health complaint filed against asbestos removal company," Yvonne Wenger, March 16, 2012

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