Olivet Management LLC, a real estate development and management company that owns the former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in the Wingdale section of Dover Plains, N.Y., faces a total of $2,359,000 in proposed fines from OSHA, which cited the company for exposing its own employees, as well as employees for 13 contractors, to asbestos and lead hazards during cleanup operations in preparation for a tour of the site by potential investors.
“Olivet knew that asbestos and lead were present at this site, yet the company chose to ignore its responsibility to protect its own workers and contractors,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “The intolerable choice this company made put not only workers, but also their families, in danger.”
A statement from Olivet Management said the company "has been working together and cooperating with OSHA and other agencies to ensure that our employees work in a safe and healthful workplace."
An inspection by OSHA’s Albany Area Office was launched Oct. 23, 2013 in response to a complaint. The inspection found that Olivet employees and contractors allegedly were exposed to asbestos and lead while performing renovation and cleanup activities. The work, which was directed and overseen by Olivet supervisors, included removing: asbestos- and lead-contaminated debris; asbestos-containing floor tiles and insulation; and lead-containing paint from walls, windows, door frames and other painted surfaces.
OSHA determined that Olivet “knowingly” failed to take basic safety precautions. The company neither informed their own employees nor the contractors about the presence of asbestos and lead, despite knowing that both hazards existed. As a result, Olivet did not:
- Train employees in the hazards of asbestos and lead and the need and nature of required safeguards;
- Monitor workers’ exposure levels;
- Provide appropriate respiratory protection; post notices, warning signs and labels to alert workers and contractors to the presence of asbestos and lead; or
- Provide clean changing and decontamination areas for workers, many of whom wore their contaminated clothing home to households with small children.
As a result of these conditions, Olivet was cited for 45 alleged willful violations, with $2,352,000 in proposed fines. Twenty-four of the willful citations address instance-by-instance exposure of workers to asbestos and lead hazards. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
Olivet was also issued one serious citation, with a $7,000 fine, for failing to inform waste haulers of the presence of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, meaning asbestos from the site may have been disposed of improperly at an unknown location. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Olivet Speaks Out
Olivet Management said it is reviewing the notice and will address the citations in a timely manner.
"We have the same goals as OSHA, to insure that once construction and renovation work is commenced, all workers will be fully protected against any unsafe and unhealthful working conditions," said the statement from the company. "Furthermore, being new to New York State, we are grateful for the direction we have been given by both state and federal agencies in helping us move forward with our long term commitment to bring economic development, stability and vibrancy and new jobs to the area in the most effective and efficient manner as possible."
Olivet said it will be taking a close look at the extensive citations and penalties that OSHA issued "in the hope of working with the agency to resolve them."
Due to the willful violations found at the site, Olivet has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities or job sites.
Renovation and cleanup activities can generate airborne concentrations of asbestos and lead. Workers can be exposed to both through inhalation or ingestion. Exposure to asbestos can cause disabling or fatal diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma and gastrointestinal cancer. While lead exposure can cause damage to the nervous system, kidneys, blood forming organs, and reproductive system.
In January, EPA ordered Olivet to stop all work that could disturb asbestos at the facility. EPA’s investigation is ongoing.
The company said it will work "with all affected parties to revitalize these many acres of property which have been unused and remain in their original condition when the state of New York closed all state hospitals facilities 20 years ago."
Olivet Management said it plans to continue moving forward on the project and is "committed to for the long term."
Olivet has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.