The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has fined Joseph Kehrer nearly $1.8 million for exposing foreign workers to asbestos without proper training, equipment, or instruction.
Keher is the owner of Kehrer Brothers Construction and a Kehrer-affiliated company, D7 Roofing, which hired the workers from Mexico to perform asbestos removal on an Illinois elementary school. In total, Kehrer and Kehrer Brothers were cited for 16 egregious, nine willful, and six serious violations. The workers did not receive proper protection equipment such as respirators and were not properly instructed on how to remove the asbestos. OSHA says Keher failed to warn the employees about the dangers of working with asbestos. According to the Department of Labor, the workers spoke little English, lived in Kehrer-provided housing, and were driven to and from the worksite. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels, argues that the workers “were at his mercy”: “Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos. 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.” Describing the health risks the workers faced, Michaels said: “It’s unclear whether the workers will be able to find other work in the United States. These workers will carry this increased cancer risk for the rest of their lives.” The workers were brought to the U.S. on H-2b visas, making this a prime example of the rampant abuses of a temporary worker program many large companies wish to see expanded. OSHA claimed Kehrer and Kehrer Brothers 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 worksite. –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 referred the case to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Kehrer Brothers Construction has been inspected 11 times since 2007. A list of citations for Kehrer Brothers is available online as is a list for D7 Roofing. OSHA has placed Kehrer Brothers in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.