OSHA, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has proposed $1.4 million in fines against Superior, Wisconsin’s Fraser Shipyards for 14 “willful, egregious” health violations involving employee exposure to lead levels up to 20 times the legal limit.
In addition, a report noted that the workers were also exposed to high levels of other heavy metals and that Fraser failed to inform shipyard workers of the presence, location, and quantity of asbestos-containing materials at the facility, specifically in ships being repaired or demolished on the premises.
This makes Fraser a “severe violator” in the eyes of OSHA.
Specifically, in regards to the asbestos exposure allegations, employees who were charged with the task of demolishing a particular ship at the facility were not told that they shouldn’t be cutting into piping and other equipment that may contain asbestos.
For decades, asbestos exposure at shipyards was common and found just about everywhere aboard U.S. military ships and also privately-owned smaller boats. On Navy ships, asbestos materials were prevalent in places like the engine room, but were also present in less-likely places including the galley, the mess, and even sleeping quarters.
As a result, generations of shipyard workers and plenty of members of the U.S. Navy were regularly exposed to the toxic material. As a matter of fact, naval veterans have the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the U.S. and shipyard workers aren’t far behind as far as risk is concerned.
According to an article on the Business Insurance website, “the agency [OSHA] determined Fraser Shipyards’ management knew of the presence of lead and asbestos throughout the vessel, which was built in 1959 and arrived at the shipyards in December 2015 for a six-month retrofit project.
The contract required the company to meet specific deadlines to get the vessel back in service for the summer iron ore shipping season, according to OSHA.”
But, as was typical for many years, the information seems not to have been passed on to the workers. Since the pre-World War II years, thousands of both civilian and military employees worked in shipyards like Fraser in Superior, Wisconsin and aboard ships that floated all around the world, regularly being exposed to asbestos materials.
Decades after their exposure, they were diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, a disease for which the only truly known cause is inhalation of asbestos fibers.
In the current situation with Fraser, the company did indeed halt work after they were warned of their infractions, thanks to more stringent workplace laws that have been in place for the last few decades. In days past, however, work was carried on even after shipyard officials learned of the dangers of asbestos.
Those who worked in those shipyards were kept in the dark and were rarely given any sort of gear to protect them from exposure to asbestos and other toxins.
Thankfully, the law has been on the side of many of those who were sickened, with large numbers filing suit against asbestos product manufacturers and emerging victorious. Once diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s the only recourse they have, though it’s “too little, too late” for many of these victims.
Still, families of mesothelioma patients exposed during shipyard employment can file suit even after their loved one dies, and may receive compensation to help pay for existing medical bills and other expenses associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis and death.