Sowerby Bill Demands Higher Penalties for Asbestos-Related Violations

MIOSHA stats show few penalties issued over seven-year period
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LANSING — State Rep. Bill Sowerby (D-Clinton Township) introduced House Bill 5597 today prohibiting the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) from reducing asbestos-related violation penalties by an amount that is greater than what the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows. MIOSHA policy allows penalties to be reduced up to 95 percent, and is more generous than OSHA when reducing penalties for certain small companies. A recent investigation found that over a seven-year period, MIOSHA issued zero penalties in two-thirds of violations in which safety issues were involved.

“Asbestos exposure can be a death sentence, often leaving people with only a year to live after a diagnosis, so the fines from MIOSHA should match the danger employees experience,” said Sowerby. “House Bill 5997, along with the other bills in this six-bill bipartisan package, will hold companies and contractors responsible and demand that asbestos removal is handled properly.”

Sowerby’s bill also extends Michigan's look-back period from three to five years in order to determine repeat violators, which matches the federal OSHA standard. “We should be using the longer five year look-back period, because asbestos violations are very serious and dangerous and repeat violators should face the appropriate fines,” said Sowerby.

The package of bills are in response to an audit released last August by the Office of the Auditor General on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Air Quality Division’s Asbestos Program and recent investigative reporting performed by the Detroit Free Press.

“MIOSHA’s duty is to protect workers from worksite hazards, but when it comes to asbestos exposure, they generously reduce penalties for serious violations that put employees and neighborhoods at risk,” said Sowerby. “I am glad that we can work in a bipartisan fashion to reform our asbestos safety program to better protect our workers. I look forward to working with my colleagues to win quick legislative approval so we can move these bills to the governor’s desk for his signature.”