Despite knowing the dangers of asbestos, renovation companies throughout the nation continue to ignore the risks and put workers, homeowners and residents in danger. However, justice is being served in Seattle where two companies have been ordered to pay $789,200 in fines due to their negligence in violating asbestos regulations.
James Thorpe and Chris Walters, and their respective companies, worked together to renovate a Seattle home. They intended to fix up the property and flip it, but the pair took some dangerous shortcuts by ignoring asbestos removal regulations and putting everyone in the area at risk.
Blatant Disregard for Safe Asbestos Practices
Every state in the United States is responsible for setting and enforcing its own asbestos regulations. In Washington State, these regulations are set by the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
A concerned neighbor called the L&I after watching workers improperly remove asbestos tiles from the outside of the home. Before talking to L&I, the neighbor approached Walters, who gave assurances that he was the homeowner and would properly remove the asbestos. The neighbor then took video evidence proving this proper removal did not occur, which was provided to L&I.
L&I took over from there, and their investigation resulted in several serious citations:
- Employing uncertified workers for asbestos removal
- Failure to use a certified asbestos supervisor
- Not obtaining an asbestos good faith survey
- Failure to use water to minimize dust
- Failure to keep shingles intact during removal
- Lack of protective equipment for workers
- Failure to monitor air quality
- Lack of written accident prevention program
As a result, L&I has fined both personally $214,100, and their companies an additional $180,500, for the asbestos-related citation.
Intentional Deceit of the Investigation
Thorpe and Walters showed an ongoing lack of remorse throughout the investigation and failed to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, they relied on a complicated web of companies and roles to muddle their involvement.
“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,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health at L&I.
The home with asbestos was purchased by Northlake Capital & Development, which is owned by Thorpe. Shortly after, he created a new company—3917 Densmore LLC—and assigned Walters as the sole member and homeowner. Before the creation of 3917 Densmore LLC, Walters was an employee for Northlake Capital & Development.
However, this strategy backfired on them. Instead of skirting responsibility, their intricate network simply made it obvious how connected both individuals and companies were to the renovation project. In the end, they were all considered responsible for the negligence.
Companies Have Too Much to Lose
Despite the financial and medical risks, these two are not alone in their greed. Companies across the United States continue to cut corners in their asbestos removal projects because they believe it’s easier and more cost-efficient to ignore asbestos removal rules.
In Washington alone, there have been several recent cases that prove otherwise:
- A Seattle hotelier was fined $355,000 for cutting corners with untrained workers
- Above & Beyond Asbestos Removal, an asbestos removal company, was fined $229,700 for failing to follow regulations
- Partners Construction Inc. and Asbestos Construction Management Inc. were fined $379,100 for improper asbestos removal and handling
While each state sets their asbestos regulations, they have one common goal: to protect people.
Asbestos exposure can result in serious health consequences and cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer with a poor prognosis and isn’t usually diagnosed until the later stages when treatment options become limited.
Companies that violate asbestos regulations put everyone at risk, which is as unnecessary as it is irresponsible. By merely following the rules and regulations, companies protect themselves, their workers and all the residents that live nearby.
This recent investigation set an example, and maintained a precedent, that asbestos-related negligence is not tolerated in Washington. The massive fines imposed on Thorpe, Walters and their companies are a message to business owners everywhere: follow the rules, because there is too much to lose.