OSHA fines city for asbestos violations

CENTRAL POINT — City officials failed to protect workers from possible asbestos exposure during demolition of a century-old house on Manzanita Street in mid-February, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found.

While only a trace amount of asbestos was found in small scraps of debris from the property, the city was cited by Oregon OSHA officials for a handful of procedural violations ranging from training requirements for asbestos handling to special respirators and clothing required for working on structures built before 1980.

The city was fined $815 for the violations on Monday.

"Despite no asbestos being found on the site, it doesn't mean they followed all the rules," said Oregon OSHA spokesperson Melanie Mesaros.

"Basically, they were supposed to have told the employees there was potentially asbestos there or that the material could have contained asbestos. They were then supposed to have actually tested for it before they started working."

Public Works Director Bob Pierce said city officials reviewed rules for the Department of Environmental Quality and OSHA and that the site was exempt from most precautions under DEQ standards.

"The outcome was we made some mistakes and we fessed up to those and were fined $815," Pierce said.

"The bottom line for us is we did everything we knew about and we did not go out there and say, 'Oh the heck with it, we don't care, let's just do this.' We take our employee safety very seriously. We went out there thinking we had done everything the way it should have been done."

Pierce said employees were instructed to sprinkle water over the work site if dust was present. In addition, a city building official inspected the site and determined the structure was unlikely to contain materials with asbestos.

City crews demolished the house, identified as a blight house, after it was determined the property owner could not afford to remove it.

When Oregon OSHA inspectors visited the site, minimal debris was found for testing and a visit to the disposal site determined the debris had already been buried.

"Where we screwed up was we did not check with OSHA employee guidelines for employee safety," Pierce added.

"They tested for three types of stuff — roofing, tile and linoleum — and one sample had less than 1 percent (asbestos). So we didn't expose anybody to asbestos from what I can determine here, but there were other steps we should have taken."

Three multipart citations were issued to the city, with some $815 in combined fines. They include:

  • A citation for not informing employees of the potential presence of asbestos; not verifying the absence of asbestos in a 100-year-old structure; not posting warning signs at the work site; not using wetting down methods; and not removing tiles in a manner to contain potential asbestos materials.
  • A citation for not providing adequate training to employees on the work site and for not providing clothing, gloves, foot covering and respirators to workers handling materials on the site. Respirators were provided, but were not the right kind, Mesaros said.
  • A citation for not testing properly for asbestos.

Pierce said the city would contract out demolition projects from now on. It also would likely adopt specific ordinances with requirements pertaining to DEQ and OSHA standards.

"We're simply not going to tear anything down ourselves anymore," Pierce said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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