Houston, We have a Problem: Who is Responsible for Protecting City Workers?
Everyday, we expose ourselves to potential harm that comes in many forms. We have all heard of the potential dangers of artificial sweeteners and processed foods. We are constantly reminded about the dangers of smoking and the health risks associated with fatty foods. The truth is, each day we can only do our best to try and make good decisions for our health with the knowledge we possess. It’s our responsibility, after all. But when an employer directly exposes their employees to a known carcinogen and fails to do their part in ensuring the safety of the employees, it becomes the responsibility, and even the liability, of the employer.
This week, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) confirmed that Houston city contract workers were unknowingly exposed to high levels of asbestos dust while repairing broken water mains during the city’s record-breaking summer drought last year. The city construction workers sawed into the underground asbestos pipe that producing highly toxic levels of asbestos dust.
“This is another tragic example of lives endangered due to lack of asbestos education, compliance and enforcement. It is inexcusable that workers continue to be exposed to asbestos, a known human carcinogen,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder of ADAO. “In order to protect workers’ safety and health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed detailed standards about handling asbestos. Nonetheless, some contractors continue to knowingly expose their workers to asbestos without complying with these standards. ADAO calls on Congress to require that OSHA’s asbestos standards are enforced so that workers’ safety and health are never compromised.”
The Houston workers report that no one told them the materials they were working with contained asbestos. And worse, they were not wearing respirators or protective clothing; the industry norm when handling asbestos. Now, city officials are playing the blame game over who is responsible for placing the workers’ health at risk.
Reytec Construction Resources, Inc. was the company hired by the city of Houston to carry out the repairs on the water pipes. City officials claim that it’s the responsibility of the contractor to inform their workers and make sure that safety precautions are properly enforced. Yet other cities, such as Dallas, have precise rules that contractors must follow when working with asbestos materials.
Reytec claims that it’s the hired subcontractor’s responsibility to enforce safety measures on construction sites. Reytec also stated that they had done their part by informing the subcontractor of the asbestos pipes. The subcontractor on this job, however, says he was never told that the materials his workers were handling contained the carcinogen.
The city of Houston may be further responsible, as Reytec is listed on the severe violator list from OSHA. The construction company has violated regulations regarding asbestos three times prior to this incident.
Regardless of who’s responsible, the workers are the one who face the real consequences of asbestos. They were the victims of all three of the parties in question, because not one responsible party took action to ensure their safety. Now, the city construction workers face life-threatening consequences in the future because they were exposed to asbestos.
The mesothelioma attorneys at Baron and Budd have handled numerous cases that have resulted from situations much like what happened in Houston. After almost 35 years, the law firm of Baron and Budd knows that no level of asbestos exposure is safe. That’s why Baron and Budd is a platinum sponsor of the ADAO and supports the organization in advocating for a ban on asbestos in the U.S.
To learn more about how you can get involved with ADAO, visit here.