A mesothelioma diagnosis means asbestos exposure occurred. Probably not just once but many times. The asbestos exposure most likely occurred on the job because business interests were considered more important than the safety of workers and their families. In our most recent “Throwback Thursday” post commemorating Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary, we revisited a time in the 1980s when big business interests orchestrated the shutdown of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA. That meant there would be no trained inspectors safeguarding workers against dangers like asbestos exposure.
Our story had a happy ending. A group of us got together to form a group called WorkSafe California that succeeded in helping to get Cal/OSHA back up and running. But as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
No sooner was that anniversary post up on our website when I received a disturbing email from Fran Schreiberg, a labor attorney who was part of the group that helped restore Cal/OSHA with me about 30 years ago and started working at Kazan Law doing pro bono work in this area in 1991.
“A whistleblower complaint charging the Department of Industrial Relations with misuse of state and federal funds designated for Cal/OSHA, the state workplace health and safety agency, was filed with the California State Auditor on Tuesday, April 1st by a 20-year veteran of the agency who retired in January 2014,” it said.
The whistleblower complaint contains 16 items describing improper, and possibly illegal, use of DOSH funds by DIR in three key areas - budget and funding, real estate and personnel.
“This is terrible,” Fran Schreiberg said to me when she briefed me on this new development. “This means that funds intended to protect workers from asbestos exposure were used for other things.”
The lack of resources, caused by DIR’s misuse and mismanagement of Cal/OSHA funds, means that there are fewer compliance officers available to conduct on-site inspections, fewer inspections of high hazard workplaces where many low-wage and vulnerable workers are employed, fewer consultants to assist small employers, and fewer resources to develop new regulations to protect the health and safety of California¹s workers.
We hope that this misuse of funds is thoroughly investigated and halts this latest attempt to weaken protection for workers from hazards like asbestos exposure.