In another promising step forward, new Michigan legislation has been introduced with the aim to protect construction workers from being exposed to asbestos at work. The collection of bills was brought about due to reports over the last several years that highlighted dangerous gaps in workplace safety enforcement by the City of Detroit. The city’s demolition contractors have overseen the demolition of thousands of unused and deserted homes but have been negligent in protecting workers from the resulting asbestos exposure in old buildings.
Protecting Demolition Workers and Nearby Residents
However, there is good news. These bills are bound to protect not only construction workers involved in such demolition projects but also residents of the neighborhoods in which the demolition is occurring.
Some of the requirements of the bills include:
- Public agencies perform background checks before employing an asbestos abatement contractor. If safety or environmental violations are found, the contractor in question would be prevented from working.
- Contractors bidding on public projects must disclose any and all environmental violations at the state or federal level that occurred within the last 5 years.
- Public agencies can refrain from making payments to any contractors who commit over 5 environmental notices in a year. Public agencies may withhold payment until the contractors have proven that they have taken remedial steps.
- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality may collect fees to fund asbestos inspections.
- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality must file an annual report on asbestos inspector staffing levels.
Safety Negligence Leads to Legal Changes
Thanks to the Detroit Free Press who brought forward many of the safety issues that led to this legislation, residents and workers will be much safer. As we know, any level of exposure to asbestos is hazardous and places those exposed at risk. Safe asbestos removal and disposal requires great care and oversight.
The Free Press conducted a 2016 investigation into the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA), and the findings were grim. The investigation revealed that MIOSHA failed to sufficiently penalize employers who exposed their workers to asbestos. The Free Press looked at 4,000 violations over a period of 7 years. They found that almost all violations led to penalties of just $1,000 or less. In fact, only one-third of safety violations even led to penalties being issued. The incentive to improve safety measures was minimal.
Holding Employers Accountable
Luckily, the Free Press investigation has prompted a real and significant change. Their findings indicate that accountability at all levels is necessary to ensure peoples’ safety is not overlooked. When efficiency is prioritized over detailed oversight, lives are put at risk.
The introduction of this new legislation is no small feat. Whether the negligence that led to these bills was fed by ignorance or carelessness, its effects will be felt far and wide. The bills introduced as a result will hopefully raise and reinforce awareness about the dangers of asbestos and put pressure on contractors across the nation to approach asbestos disposal responsibly.
State Rep. Stephanie Chang, who is the lead lawmaker for these new bills, has summed up her intentions as follows:
“What I’m hoping for is a little bit more accountability and transparency when it comes to contracting,” Chang said. “The hope is that this will help improve the process for making sure we have environmentally sound practices for abating asbestos. … Given the high numbers of abatement projects that are going on, I wanted to protect public health so that people can be sure that when blight is being addressed in their neighborhood, they’re not also going to be breathing in asbestos.”
Chang’s words are encouraging, showing us that public health and safety from asbestos is becoming a higher priority and that negligence will no longer be tolerated. With any luck, this is only one example of a greater trend in increasing asbestos hazard awareness and quickly making the necessary changes to keep people safe.