Nosy neighbors help Washington crack a case of asbestos violators
Companies tried to avoid responsibility by creating "a legal web of confusion"
It almost sounds like the plot of a movie. Alert neighbors living near a home being renovated notice that some workers are improperly removing exterior asbestos tiles from the structure. They confront the man who claims to be the homeowner. He promises to remove the asbestos correctly, but the neighbors take videos showing that his workers continue to commit asbestos-related violations. Angry that the neighborhood’s residents – and those workers – are being exposed to the dangerous substance, they contact the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) about their concerns. The agency begins an investigation.
That’s the way a recent enforcement case in Washington State began. What followed was a shell game during which Chris Walters, the alleged homeowner and sole owner of Densmore LLC and James Thorpe, owner of house flipping company Northlake Capital & Development, attempted to shift responsibility from LLC to LLC and from person to person. The L&I persevered, however and eventually, both men and the companies they oversee were cited for the same violations.
“These two men endangered their workers and people who live nearby this project, including children” said Anne Soiza, L&I’s assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “On top of that, they tried to avoid responsibility by creating a legal web of confusion over who was responsible. I hope this sends a strong message that we take worker safety and public health very seriously.”
An extensive investigation by L&I revealed that Walters was actually part of a complex corporate partnership created to renovate and flip the residence.
Thorpe and Waters have each been cited for 11 willful and serious violations. In total, the fines for the four separate investigations add up to $789,200.
The fines vary, primarily due to the number of workers each entity was responsible for. Thorpe and Northlake each received $214,100 in fines and Walters and 3917 Densmore each receive $180,500.
Breaking asbestos tiles with hammers
The violations included using uncertified workers to remove asbestos; not using a certified asbestos supervisor; and not obtaining an asbestos good faith survey prior to beginning work. They were also cited for not using water and not keeping the shingles intact during removal (the workers were breaking the tiles with hammers); for the lack of proper personal protective equipment for workers; not monitoring the air during removal; and for not having a written accident prevention program.
Asbestos is extremely hazardous and can cause potentially fatal diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Only a certified abatement contractor that follows the specific asbestos related safety and health rules may remove and dispose of asbestos-containing building materials.
Penalty money paid as a result of citations is placed in the state’s workers' compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.