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July 20, 2018

Prosecutor in dust-up over asbestos threat in office

CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) – Like the sands of time, dust regularly falls on offices of the Lake County prosecutor, who hopes it isn’t laced with asbestos.

“A number of our employees have been complaining about sinus problems and are very concerned,” Prosecutor Bernard Carter said Monday.

Forty-year-old asbestos fireproofing hangs above the heads of more than 40 of his deputy prosecutors and clerical support staff along with countless visitors.

He notes with irony the asbestos has been removed in the county jail, but not where his staff works.

County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said, “Unfortunately, there still is asbestos in the buildings, but as long as it’s not disturbed, it’s not hurting anybody.” Commissioners oversee county building maintenance.

Nevertheless, Carter said he and his employees presented the Board of Commissioners with a petition to address the problem when they were dramatically reminded of it two months ago following a water line that burst in their office, spraying their law library and evidence closet with sewage, The (Munster) Times reported (http://bit.ly/1AW7uIA ).

“The workmen who came in were all taped and dressed up like they were going into space. Our employees were walking around unprotected and wondering what they were being exposed to,” Carter said.

Scheub said, “Anytime anybody complains about air quality, we take that very seriously.” He said commissioners ordered Robert Rehder, superintendent of county government buildings, to hire a firm to test the air quality. “He told commissioners they found nothing detrimental to anybody’s health.”

Barb McConnell, one of Carter’s chief deputies, said, “Testing hasn’t been done in this office for years. We have had to tape plastic up in our victim-witness office so the stuff won’t fall on their desks. When there is movement upstairs, you can’t tell me that doesn’t disturb it.”

It’s no better for much of the floor above Carter’s office. Public Defender David Schneider said asbestos is above the heads of his staff. Senior Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez said three of the four original courtrooms there still have it. “So far, no one has gotten sick. We haven’t held a discussion about it, because out of sight, out of mind.”

Asbestos is a mineral fiber with heat-insulating and fire-resistance properties that was commercially sprayed into buildings until the mid-1970s, when it was linked to lung cancer in people who inhaled large amounts.

It was present in all three original buildings of the county government center when they opened four decades ago. A federal court mandate prompted county officials to remove it from the jail in the late 1980s.

The state held the county in violation of occupational safety laws in 1990 after material was found on office floors in the courts building. Commissioners posted warnings that year forbidding employees from removing any drop-ceiling tiles except in a dire emergency.

Commissioners spent $12 million between 1993 and 2006 removing asbestos from public and office areas, but the program was halted short of the mark because of cost overruns that occurred when money was diverted to new carpeting, lighting fixtures and other non-asbestos spending.

There are no plans to address asbestos with any of the $12 million the county has just borrowed to address county government building maintenance, Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said Monday, but he said commissioners need a professional assessment of where asbestos remains, so it can be dealt with in future rehabilitation projects.

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Prosecutor in dust-up over asbestos threat in office

Saskatchewan adds to asbestos registry rules in bid to better protect workers

REGINA – Saskatchewan is putting new requirements in place for an asbestos registry that Labour Minister Don Morgan says will help protect workers from exposure.

Occupational Health and Safety rules have been amended to include additional forms of asbestos to be reported and to update required information.

A law making asbestos reporting mandatory for Crown corporations, school districts, health regions and provincial government buildings was enacted last November.

Building owners have to submit information about the presence of asbestos to the registry.

Owners who have already provided information will have to review the changes to the rules and update their submissions if needed.

Compliance and enforcement are to come into effect for all asbestos- related activities on June 1.

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Saskatchewan adds to asbestos registry rules in bid to better protect workers

Building firm fined for ignoring asbestos warning at school

A Caterham building contractor has been fined £50,000 for ignoring asbestos safety rules after the deadly material was discovered at an independent girls’ school in Woldingham.

Buxton Building Contractors Ltd was fined and ordered to pay £26,217 costs by Guildford Crown Court on Monday (January 13), having pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The firm, based in High Street, Caterham, was carrying out refurbishment work at Woldingham School for Girls in 2011 and had commissioned a specialist survey to search for asbestos, but failed to act when it was discovered in a basement area.

It allowed a number of different contractors, including a teenage apprentice electrician, to work in the area until someone raised the alarm when he broke through the ceiling and exposed asbestos insulation boarding.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) began an investigation in July 2011 and prosecuted the company for safety breaches.

Guildford Crown Court heard the firm was the principal contractor remodelling the school’s dining area and kitchen.

After a surveyor was employed to look specifically at the undercroft area – which had been omitted from an earlier asbestos report – and the survey highlighted the presence of the hazardous material, Buxton Building Contractors failed to deal with it or provide any safeguards for workers on site, the court was told.

Workers had unrestricted access for at least two weeks but the area was sealed off by a licensed asbestos contractor once an employee discovered the material.

Buxton Building Contractors admitted a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to plan, manage and properly monitor the construction work at the school.

After the court hearing, HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said: “This was a serious failing on the part of the company.

“Having correctly commissioned an asbestos survey, it looks as though no-one at Buxton Contractors Ltd bothered to read it.

“Or if they did, they disregarded its contents and failed to act to protect site workers from exposure to what is one of the deadly killers in the construction industry.

“As a result, several people, including the young apprentice, were unnecessarily exposed to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres.

“One can only wish and hope that there are no serious consequences for these workers in the future.

“It is vital that companies are fully aware of not just the duty to get an asbestos survey done, but then to act on its findings.

“There is considerable guidance freely available from HSE to assist duty-holders to deal with asbestos materials properly.”

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Building firm fined for ignoring asbestos warning at school