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Contractor Faces Criminal Probe

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

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Federal workplace safety officials say criminal charges may be brought against an Illinois construction company accused of exposing immigrant employees to asbestos, without proper safety gear, during a school renovation project.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued dozens of citations and proposed penalties of nearly $2 million against Joseph Kehrer, Kehrer Brothers Construction and a Kehrer-affliated Company, D7 Roofing, of Albers, in August 2015.

DOJ Probe

A Department of Labor spokesperson recently updated a local newspaper, Belleville News-Democrat, on the case, indicating that OSHA’s case against Kehrer has been “put on hold” as federal prosecutors conduct a separate investigation “into possibly pursing criminal charges against the employer.”

Asbestos
CDC

Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material that can lead to mesothelioma and lung cancer, according to the agency. The Centers for Disease Control image above shows fibers lodged in the lungs.

Kehrer has contested the agency’s allegations, according to his attorney, Clyde Kuehn of Belleville, planning to take the matter to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Kuehn said that there are significant disagreements on the facts of the case and confirmed the Department of Justice probe.

“We have interviewed all of the witnesses and do not understand why they [OSHA] allege that friable asbestos was removed from that building without safety gear. We’re left to wonder what the evidence is on that, and they have not provided discovery to us on what it is,” he told the newspaper.

Kehrer and Kehrer Brothers were cited for 40 egregious, willful and serious violations and fined $1,792,000. D7 Roofing was fined $147,000 for two willful and one serious violation.

Asbestos Exposure

OSHA’s case stems from an investigation into a renovation project at a former Okawville elementary school building in February 2015, where officials allegedly found at least eight workers exposed to asbestos—an extremely hazardous material that can lead to asbestosis, a potentially fatal disease, as well as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

OSHA said the workers were exposed to asbestos while removing insulation, floor tiles and other materials without proper protections.

David Michaels
OSHA Official Photo

“Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos,” Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said when the violations were announced.

Many of the workers came to the U.S. to work for Kehrer under the provisions of the H-2B visa program that allows companies to hire foreign workers temporarily.

The investigation also found the Kehrer management threatened some workers with termination if they spoke with OSHA authorities, OSHA alleged.

‘Outrageous, Illegal Behavior’

“Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos,” Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said when the violations were announced.

“Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators. This is outrageous, illegal behavior,” he added.

Kehrer Brothers Construction has a prior history with OSHA and has been inspected 11 times since 2007, according to the agency. One of the recent cases resulting in violations involved the duty to have fall protection, according to the agency's database.

   

Tagged categories: Asbestos; Enforcement; Maintenance programs; OSHA; Renovation; Schools; Workers

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