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Janitor awarded damages for asbestos exposure

Ohio parents expect their children's schools to be safe environments in which students can be educated without worry of injury or illness. This is almost certainly a reasonable expectation, but school administrators sometimes take actions that further jeopardize students, teachers and other workers. At one out-of-state school, a janitor was even discharged from her position after alerting school officials to a serious asbestos exposure problem.

In 2012, two school janitors were tasked with re-waxing the floors of an area high school. However, the district claimed that the project was running behind schedule, and the custodians were instructed to forego the previous plan and to instead dry sand the tiles. The custodians were never informed that the floor tiles contained deadly substance asbestos.

Dry sanding the tiles produced an enormous amount of white dust, which then had to be collected and disposed of. Unaware that it contained asbestos and not provided with the proper equipment, the two janitors collected the dust with a leaf blower and trash bags. The asbestos-laden dust spread relatively far, coating not only the furniture located on the first floor but also some of the cars in a nearby parking lot.

One of the janitors later learned of the asbestos in the floor tiles and took her complaint to the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Afterwards, she was fired by the school district. A recent ruling from federal OSHA rendered nearly $200,000 in financial damages for lost wages, emotional distress, possible future medical bills and the loss of her professional reputation. Following her OSHA complaint, the district apparently went beyond simply terminating her employment and also sent out an email that indicated she was a troublemaker.

Asbestos is no small matter as there is currently no known level of exposure that is safe. The dangers of this toxic substance have been public knowledge since at least 1971, and workers exposed to asbestos often result mesothelioma, lung disease and other illnesses years after the fact. When workers, students and other people in Ohio are put into vulnerable positions because of wrongful asbestos exposure, it is often necessary to hold the negligent parties financially responsible in order to address damages and prevent future wrongful actions.

Source: freep.com, "OSHA finds retaliation against school janitor who reported asbestos", Jennifer Dixon, June 30, 2016

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