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USDA workers worried about asbestos exposure

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with keeping the country's food supply safe, but some employees say they are the ones facing health risks. The current USDA headquarters is undergoing a renovation and making some workers worried. Many claim that the renovations are putting them at risk for asbestos exposure.

In late March 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- which also helps protect workplaces in South Carolina and across the country -- began investigating USDA worker complaints. The workers' union had previously claimed that management did not provide adequate notice about the presence of lead paint and asbestos during renovations. It also accused the management team of failing to erect physical barriers that would safely quarantine workers from the renovations.

The USDA was also accused of not providing adequate telecommuting accommodations during renovations. The agency recently cracked down on telecommuting requests, despite several workers suddenly feeling sick during the ongoing renovations. The USDA denied these claims, saying it gave workers the choice to either share desks with other workers in the building or to work from home. However, it is not clear how this would work with the current policy that requires telecommuting workers to be in the office at least four days a week.

A professor of public health from an area university believes that the USDA is not only behaving wrongly, but that it is putting its workers at serious risk for long-term health effects. A USDA employee whose father died due to asbestos poisoning agrees. She believes the agency is not taking the health of its workers seriously.

The OSHA investigation is still ongoing. It can be difficult waiting for the results of such an investigation, which will determine whether an employer will be cited for any serious wrongdoing or lapse in safety protocols. However, OSHA results can be essential for South Carolina workers who are the victims of asbestos exposure, as this information may help in the litigation of a civil lawsuit.

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