Minnesota OSHA Fines University for Asbestos

Asbestos issues in the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities appear with alarming frequency in the news. Regular readers of this feature may remember stories from the fall of 2007 regarding asbestos problems at universities in California, Louisiana and New York.
Winona State University in Minnesota has now joined the list and now faces fines of $24,500 for workplace safety violations during campus asbestos removal. According to officials from the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), supervisors at WSU failed to follow standard safety procedures when it came to protecting workers during recent insulation installation projects.

A representative of the university said that they are cooperating with OSHA on the matter: “We take it seriously, and we do believe that we’ll come to a very positive result with our discussions with OSHA.” Nonetheless, the university is disputing the finding and contesting the allegations.

Assistant vice president of marketing and communications Cristeen Custer added, “Obviously student safety is of critical importance to us and we would never jeopardize or take liberties with student or worker health. If there was a concern we would have alerted students.” At the heart of the OSHA allegations is a plumbing project at two women’s dormitories early last year. The citation alleges that the removal of asbestos lagging from the pipes was not properly supervised, nor was air quality monitored; air filtration equipment was not used; and the workers did not wear haz-mat suits while the tasks were being carried out.

As a result, employees may have been exposed to harmful concentrations of asbestos fibers. In addition, the university maintenance department failed to post warning signs in places where asbestos was a hazard. The citations also allege that the university failed to maintain records of asbestos removal work for a 10-year period between 1995 and 2005.