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OSHA cites Ford for failing to protect workers from asbestos

Asbestos-related diseases are not merely relics from the old days when the fiber was used in everything from coffee makers and hair dryers to pipe gaskets, floor leveling compounds and bonding agents. In many industries asbestos-containing materials are still in active use today.

When asbestos is used, however, we now know that it’s crucial to use respiratory protection and strictly limit any exposure to the cancer-causing agent, and people whose work require them to work around it rely on their employers to protect them from this well-known hazard.

Unfortunately, some employers don’t seem to care about protecting their workers from asbestos. For example, Ford Motor Company’s Lakeshore Road Plant in Buffalo was just cited for 8 serious workplace health and safety violations by OSHA because workers were routinely exposed to deadly asbestos fibers without protection.

In OSHA parlance, a “serious” workplace safety or health violation is one that the employer knows or should have known puts workers at a substantial risk of serious physical harm or death.

In one instance, the Ford plant was cited because a pipefitter working on an asbestos-laden steam line was fully exposed to the substance. The fact that workers exposed to materials containing asbestos were not wearing any respiratory protection equipment led to another serious citation.

For a third, the plant didn’t bother to limit the asbestos exposure of workers generally by setting up a regulated and properly marked area for working on asbestos-containing items, as is required by law. That area should also have been limited to people authorized to be there, and the company should have monitored the airborne concentration of asbestos fibers the workers were being exposed to.

"Workers deserve to perform their duties in a safe environment knowing they are protected from unsafe exposure to asbestos and other hazardous materials," said the agency’s area director. "It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that proper and effective safeguards are in place and in use at all times."

Because of the poor asbestos containment practices at this plant, it is unclear how many workers may be affected -- and they won’t know if they have developed asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer or other asbestos-related diseases for decades. Ford had best set aside a trust fund for any sick workers’ compensation.

Source: OSHA news release, “US Department of Labor's OSHA cites Ford Motor Co. for 8 serious safety and health violations at Buffalo, NY, plant,” July 17, 2013

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