The Oregon Occupational and Safety and Health Division has fined OnTrack $19,350 after employees of the drug addiction recovery organization improperly handled asbestos at an apartment in west Medford.
OSHA inspected the building at 514 Hamilton St. on various dates in May and determined that OnTrack failed to follow proper procedures, provide protective equipment and communicate about the proper handling of asbestos with employees.
The 10 citations issued June 1 resulted from scraping acoustic ceiling without wetting it first and workers not wearing protective gear or disposing of the asbestos properly, including not placing it in air-tight containers.
“While OnTrack workers were renovating a property on Hamilton Street recently, part of the ceiling was mistakenly scraped, which contained asbestos materials,” said Eddie Wallace, OnTrack’s communications director, who responded by email to a request for comment from the Mail Tribune. “OnTrack immediately reported this episode to the DEQ (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality) and engaged in the cleaning and repair of the area according to strict DEQ guidelines.”
Wallace said OnTrack followed all the rules set by DEQ, though he didn’t address questions raised by the OSHA citations.
He said OnTrack employees have received updated training.
Wallace said the email statement would be the only response from his organization related to the OSHA citations.
According to OSHA documents, OnTrack employee Andy Scott filed the complaint, which led to the investigation and four different inspections May 8, May 9, May 11 and May 18.
Scott, a maintenance worker who started working for OnTrack last year, said his supervisors were dismissive when he questioned whether there might be asbestos in the “popcorn” ceiling that was being scraped off by other workers.
“I knew there was a risk there,” said Scott, who said he is seeking whistleblower protection from the Bureau of Labor and Industries. “They were minimizing that there are known carcinogens in there.”
He said he saw two piles of material on the ground, and a section of the ceiling had been scraped off. At this point, Scott said, he didn’t want to go into the apartment because the dust would likely have asbestos in it.
After being dismissed on other occasions, Scott said he contacted OSHA.
Analysis of debris from the apartment showed it contained up to 10 percent chrysotile asbestos.
The apartment on Hamilton was undergoing renovation, though it was locked up Friday and the interior was empty.
In the same building is another apartment, with an OnTrack family living inside.
The OSHA documents describe employees working in the apartment without whole-body clothing, head coverings or gloves. Protective clothing wasn’t required by OnTrack for the employees.
Once a common building material, asbestos was phased out in the 1970s and 1980s after health officials determined the fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses, such as lung cancer and other diseases.
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