The owner of an Illinois construction company who imported Mexican asbestos workers to remove asbestos at a former school is now facing criminal charges, reports an Associated Press article.
Joseph Kehrer, owner of Kehrer Brothers Construction of Albers, Illinois, has already been fined $1.8 million by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exposing the men to dangerous conditions without their knowledge, but now a Department of Labor spokesperson reports that federal prosecutors have begun an investigation into potentially filing criminal charges against Kehrer.
Kehrer’s attorney, Clyde Kuehn, played down the investigation, telling the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat that criminal investigations aren’t unusual in cases like the one involving his client.
“The reason these citations are being contested is that there are some very significant disagreements on the facts of this case,” Kuehn said. “OSHA’s position on the facts is much different from Mr. Kehrer’s position. We’re trying to work toward having an opportunity to lay that out.”
Part of the reason for the criminal investigation stems from the fact that OSHA alleges the workers came to the U.S. specifically at the request of Kehrer and on a special visa that allowed them to enter the country for temporary employment.
The eight men did whatever was commanded of them and were apparently threatened with a loss of employment if they reported any wrongdoings.
“This case stands out because of the outrageous behavior of Joseph Kehrer,” Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said in August 2015, at the time the fine was levied. “They spoke no English. He drove them to jobs,” he added. “He set up a housing camp for them. They were at his mercy.”
The hired workers were charged with the task of removing tiles, insulation, and other toxic materials from the school. They were unaware that, in doing so, they were subject to asbestos exposure. There is no indication as to whether the men were giving any sort of protective gear to wear while working with the asbestos-containing products.
Kehrer is just another in a long line of individuals who knowingly exposed unsuspecting workers to asbestos, especially in the construction business. For decades, construction industry employees were exposed to a myriad of asbestos-containing products including not only floor and ceiling tiles and insulation but also paint, drywall, gaskets, shingles, siding, glues and mastics, cement, and much more.
Construction workers are still among those most likely to encounter asbestos, even today, and many former construction employees have already battled asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Thankfully, today, government organizations like OSHA are catching and prosecuting these individuals. Back in the early- to mid-20th century, company owners got away with a lot, exposing workers to asbestos without ever giving it a second thought.
Through the power of litigation, however, some are now being held responsible for their actions, though it’s way too late for many who were sickened on the job.