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Cal/OSHA: County failed to protect employees from asbestos

Although it has been linked to cancer and a number of respiratory diseases, asbestos is still present in many workplaces. In California, employers and government officials are required to train workers to protect against asbestos exposure, and recently Cal/OSHA issued a fine and a citation against Sacramento County for failing to provide proper training and take other precautions.

In the summer of 2012, the ceiling in some of the offices of the county's Department of Water Resources collapsed, and despite the county's failure to report the accident to Cal/OSHA, further investigation revealed that the ceiling materials contained asbestos. Now about 230 workers who were in the building at the time are wondering if they were exposed to the dangerous carcinogen.

In particular, Cal/OSHA claims that the building's central air was left on after the ceiling collapse, and employees in the building may have been exposed to toxins as the air blew over the fallen materials.

For its part, the county says that no asbestos was present, but the asbestos inspector who complained to Cal/OSHA disagreed. His testing of the ceiling materials indicated the presence of asbestos, and he says he has received harassing emails from his supervisor after submitting the report.

The county is also accused of not providing proper safety gear to janitors who were told to clean up the hazardous material.

The risks associated with asbestos typically depend on the degree and duration of exposure, but even short-term exposure can have serious consequences. If a worker's illness has resulted from exposure to a dangerous work environment, then the necessary medical treatment is bound to be costly. In these cases, injured or ill workers in California need to be aware of every available option under the state's workers' compensation system.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "The Public Eye: Cal-OSHA fines Sacramento County for asbestos incident," Brad Branan, Oct. 2, 2013

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