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Whistleblower Case Costs Firm $160K

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

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A cleaning and restoration company in Ohio has been ordered by federal regulators to pay $161,228 to a technician who was wrongfully terminated after he raised safety concerns during a lead-abatement project.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Coit Services of Ohio, based in Bedford Heights, OH, violated whistle-blower provisions of the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Lead Safe practices
EPA

The case against Coit Services of Ohio involved an on-location technician who had a license from the Environmental Protection Agency to perform lead-safe renovation work on homes.

OSHA ordered the company to reinstate the technician with all pay, benefits and rights, as well as pay back wages of $82,000, plus interest, compensatory damages of $60,000 and "reasonable" attorney’s fees of $19,228.

The agency does not release the name of employees involved in whistleblower complaints.

Also, as part of the case, Coit Services of Ohio must remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel file and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday (July 23).

Company ‘Disappointed’

However, the Coit Services president and owner told a local newspaper that the restoration company was “disappointed” and “disagreed” with the OSHA decision.

“Our position has always been to put health and safety at the forefront of what we do,” Harvey Siegel told The Plain Dealer. “We do extensive training and staying up on best practices for the industry. We will continue to hold ourselves to these high standards.”

Lead Hazards Reported

According to OSHA’s news release, the case involved a Coit Services’ on-location technician, who had a license issued by the Environmental Protection Agency to perform lead-safe renovation work on homes.

The employee was terminated in January 2012 after reporting breaches of lead-abatement protocol during a residential water mitigation project in Shaker Heights, OH, OSHA said.

The alleged breaches occurred when another employee deviated from lead-safe practices by using a circular saw improperly to remove a ceiling at the residence.

Renovator
EPA

"Professionals, who work in the restoration and cleaning industry, have a right and a responsibility to express their professional opinion and report safety-related concerns," said Nick Walters, regional administrator for OSHA in Chicago.

“Possibly, this spread lead-based paint dust throughout the home,” OSHA said.

After he was terminated, the employee filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with OSHA and the agency initiated its investigation.

OSHA has Whistleblowers’ Backs

"Professionals, who work in the restoration and cleaning industry, have a right and a responsibility to express their professional opinion and report safety-related concerns," said Nick Walters, regional administrator for OSHA in Chicago.

"The department's responsibility is to protect all employees from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights. The CAA and TSCA protect workers who, in turn, protect the public."

Any party to the case can file an appeal with the agency’s Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of the findings.

Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

About Coit Services

Coit Services has been in business for more than 60 years. The company provides water damage restoration, carpet, tile and air duct cleaning services to residential and commercial customers.

Coit Services is one of the largest specialty cleaning and restoration companies in the world with franchises throughout the United States, Canada and Thailand, according to its website.

   

Tagged categories: EPA; Health and safety; Lead; Lead paint abatement; OSHA; Regulations; Whistle blowing

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