The top federal official for worker safety said Tuesday that an Albers businessman’s “outrageous behavior” of bringing in Mexican workers to remove asbestos without safety gear warrants fines of nearly $1.8 million.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied the fines Monday. Investigators found Joseph Kehrer, Kehrer Brothers Construction and a Kehrer-affiliated company, D7 Roofing, exposed at least eight workers to asbestos in violation of federal health standards.
“This case stands out because of the outrageous behavior of Joseph Kehrer,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. Workers were threatened with firing if they spoke to investigators, Michaels said.
“They spoke no English. He drove them to jobs,” Michaels said. “He set up a housing camp for them. They were at his mercy.”
A phone message left for Kehrer seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Kehrer had workers removing asbestos-containing materials during renovation of a former school in Okawville, at 301 W. Illinois St. Many of the workers came to the United States to work for Kehrer under a special visa program that allows companies to hire foreign workers temporarily, according to OSHA.
“Kehrer Brothers Construction brought non-English speaking workers to the U.S. and knowingly exposed them to asbestos,” Michaels said. “Kehrer also threatened to fire his employees if they spoke with our investigators. This is outrageous, illegal behavior. We at OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure this employer stops endangering his employees.”
It’s unclear whether the workers will be able to find other work in the United States, Michaels said. “These workers will carry this increased cancer risk for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Investigators said the workers removed floor tiles, insulation and other materials from the old school, unaware that they were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers. Breathing asbestos fibers can increase the risk of cancer.
The Department of Labor said Kehrer Brothers Construction has an “extensive prior history” with OSHA and has been inspected 11 times since 2007.