Michigan didn't issue fines in many asbestos violations

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DETROIT (AP) — Michigan's state worker safety agency didn't issue fines in the majority of asbestos abatement cases where it found serious violations during the past seven years, and not one company was fined the maximum $7,000, a newspaper reports.

Fines weren't issued in two-thirds of the more than 4,000 violations that the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration closed between February 2009 and February 2016, the Detroit Free Press reported (http://on.freep.com/1W0yFMO ).

The newspaper also found that 96 percent of safety violations resulted in penalties of $1,000 or less.

MIOSHA spokeswoman Tanya Baker took issue with the report that two-thirds of the violations weren't fined, saying the newspaper looked at each violation individually. She said the agency grouped related violations and assigned a penalty to just one of them. She also said the penalties are meant to correct violations and deter others.

John Newquist, a former top official in the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regional office in Chicago, which oversees Michigan, said he "never grouped asbestos violations." Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA policy analyst, said if MIOSHA wants "to use penalties as a deterrent effect, you wouldn't be grouping them."

Both said each violation should be treated separately.

Monforton, who spent 12 years at OSHA and at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said MIOSHA's penalties overall are so minimal that they don't serve as an effective deterrent. He said weak enforcement encourages "fly-by-night operations who risk people's health because they may get away with it."

Monforton, now a lecturer at the School of Public Health at George Washington University, also took issue with MIOSHA's assertion that it uses penalty reductions to encourage employers to remedy hazards quickly, noting that with asbestos, "exposure has already happened and there's no way to abate that."

Newquist said states that choose to oversee worker safety rather than have the federal government do it tend to go easier on employers.

MIOSHA Director Martha Yoder, who recently retired, told the newspaper last year that her asbestos inspectors could not monitor all abatement projects in Michigan. The agency has four inspectors this year, down from five in fiscal 2015.

"Our job is to do spot-checking," Yoder said.

Yoder said MIOSHA sees quicker abatement "as more advantageous than collecting a larger penalty."


Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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