OSHA has demanded that a school janitor in Dearborn Heights, Michigan be paid nearly $200,000 in compensation after she was punished for reporting potential asbestos exposure at her assigned school in that district, which is located just outside of Detroit.
The U.S. Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) determined that the district had violated the whistleblower protections put forth by the Clean Air Act and ordered that they pay the unidentified janitor $8,139 in lost wages, $45,000 toward current and future medical bills, and $140,000 in compensatory damages for loss of reputation and distress, as well as what was considered reasonable attorney’s fees.
The agency announced this is a statement released earlier this week.
The situation arose from a 2012 conflict during which the director of operations and construction manager at the school ordered the janitor to dry sand floor tiles that contained toxic asbestos. She objected to the task, noting that she was not trained to handle asbestos materials.
In addition, she was not to be given any protective gear during the job to keep her from inhaling the hazardous dust that would have been caused by the sanding.
OSHA reports that after her complaints, the janitor began to be harassed and was the recipient of a variety of negative personnel actions.
As she continued to be concerned about exposure and about asbestos levels in the school, she chose to report those concerns by filing complaints with the state, with the EPA, and with Michigan OSHA.
The result was more punishment from school district higher-ups including extra (and extra-difficult work), a few layoffs, and lack of a pay raise.
“No worker should be harassed or punished for reporting unsafe working conditions, advocating for other employees and seeking assurance that they are not being exposed to carcinogenic materials such as asbestos which can impact their long-term health,” Ken Nishiyama Atha, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago, said in the agency’s statement.
“OSHA’s investigation found the Dearborn Heights School District clearly knew the tiles contained asbestos and failed to protect workers from exposure.”
As with this situation, asbestos cover-ups have happened for decades. In this particular case, the whistleblower recognized the dangers and was able to make her case known, but in past years, workers were left in the dark in regards to the hazards related to asbestos.
Factory workers, steel mill employees, those who worked at refineries, textile mills, railroads, and as machinists, insulators, mechanics, and construction workers – so many of those individuals were unknowingly exposed to asbestos and eventually developed all sorts of related diseases including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Many have finally spoken out and others are continuing to do so, waging war against those responsible for their exposure via successful lawsuits that finally gain them the compensation they’ve earned, even if it’s too late to save their lives.