“Houston, you have a problem and you can do better” by John Newquist

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Posted on November 13, 2012

Guest blog by John Newquist, Retired Assistant Regional Administrator for OSHA, in response to “ ADAO Report: Houston Workers Exposed to Asbestos during Water Pipe Repairs.”

“In OSHA, I saw some general contractor blame the subcontractors for asbestos problems. But the OSHA standard is clear.

1926.1101(d)(5)

All general contractors on a construction project which includes work covered by this standard shall be deemed to exercise general supervisory authority over the work covered by this standard, even though the general contractor is not qualified to serve as the asbestos “competent person” as defined by paragraph (b) of this section. As supervisor of the entire project, the general contractor shall ascertain whether the asbestos contractor is in compliance with this standard, and shall require such contractor to come into compliance with this standard when necessary.

Simply sending a subcontractor to a meeting does not satisfying this responsibility required by OSHA for a general contractor. Simple asbestos testing needs to performed and compliance with the construction standards for asbestos is necessary for workers removing this damaged pipe. No preventive measures or testing was performed to determined to measure the worker’s level to asbestos so the workers now play a waiting game to see if they win the asbestos lottery of a life sucking painful death. No worker should ever be put in this position. It is morally wrong and against the law.

The OSHA SVEP list and a contractor’s OSHA history needs to be used by cities and municipalities when bidding out jobs. Companies that have a poor history of safety violations are cheating the workers on a safe workplace and it makes one wonder if then the contractor cheating on the quality of work for any job that they bid on.

The City of Houston should use this example as a mechanism to review tougher standards for emergency work and multiple tier subcontracting.  Houston, you have a problem and you can do better. Its citizens deserve work that is worth living for.”