A Seattle hotel owner who knew his building contained asbestos decided to cut corners and save money by removing it using untrained workers, a state agency alleges. As a result, the Seattle Pacific Hotel has been cited for multiple egregious safety and health violations and faces $355,000 in fines for exposing the workers to asbestos hazards.
Washington's Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) began its investigation last July and immediately issued a stop-work order when it discovered that asbestos removal was being done by workers who were not trained or certified to safely perform the work.
During the lobby renovation, an asbestos-abatement contractor had discovered that much of the ceiling was originally constructed with cement-asbestos-board. The L&I investigation found that the hotel owner, Raj Nariya, had gotten an estimate from the certified asbestos-abatement contractor who discovered the issue, but didn't hire that firm.
Instead, the owner had untrained employees of a roofing contractor do the work without letting them know the ceiling contained asbestos.
"It's unconscionable that anyone would knowingly expose untrained and unprotected workers to asbestos. It's an extremely hazardous material that's notorious for causing cancer and other serious health issues," said Anne Soiza, L&I's assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
The L&I investigation found a total of 12 willful workplace health violations related to removal of the asbestos. Ten of the violations carried a penalty of $35,000 each, the maximum amount allowed for an employer of its size.
The violations cited were for exposing workers to asbestos, failing to provide respiratory protection, leaving asbestos debris on site and other safety and health issues. The hotel owner was also cited for an additional willful-general violation for not taking a pre-removal air sample before removing the asbestos-materials. That violation came with a $5,000 fine.
Asbestos is extremely hazardous and can cause potentially fatal diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Removal and disposal of asbestos-containing building materials must be done by a certified abatement contractor who follows safety and health rules to protect workers and the public.