Hawaii Company Faces Fines for Asbestos Violations

Asbestos is a health danger even in an idyllic setting like Hawaii.

Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) is proposing to fine Hale Mahaolu more than $155,000 for failing to protect workers and the public from the risk of asbestos exposure.

Hale Mahaolu is a nonprofit corporation that owns and manages affordable housing for elders and families. According to DLIR’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, the company’s managers knew that units at the Lahaina Surf Complex in Maui contained asbestos. Licensed asbestos abatement contractors had been hired to do work there in the past. But between January and June 2013, the company allowed non-licensed contractors as well as its own employees to perform construction work at the complex that brought them into contact with asbestos.

Air quality was not monitored during the construction, and neither internal nor contracting workers were notified of the presence of asbestos.

“Hale Mahaolu sacrificed worker and public safety through the deliberate neglect of safe asbestos handling fundamentals. This exposure could and should have been prevented,” said DLIR Director Dwight Takamine in a statement.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in building materials and consumer products. It provided effective insulation and fire resistance. However, studies have since shown that asbestos is a cancer-causing substance. Although the use of asbestos has diminished since the 1970s, asbestos-containing materials are commonly found in older buildings and pose a potential health danger to workers.

Asbestos-containing materials may release microscopic fibers into the air if disturbed or damaged during construction. Inhalation of the fibers can lead to devastating diseases such as mesothelioma, a rare and fatal cancer that affects the thin linings of the lungs.

The state cited Hale Mahaolu for two “willful” violations: one for failing to monitor air quality during work with materials containing asbestos, and the other for its failure to inform contractors of the asbestos. Hale Mahaolu was also cited for a “serious” violation because it failed to train its own employees on safety precautions while working with materials that contain asbestos.

Under Hawaii law, a willful violation is committed with “intentional, knowing, or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety.” A serious violation is found when “there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known about.”

Hale Mahaolu has contested the state’s citations.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos and later diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Contact Sokolove Law today for a free case evaluation.