Storage and shipping company fined $1.6 million over asbestos breaches at warehouse facility

Storage and shipping company fined $1.6 million over asbestos breaches at warehouse facility

American storage and shipping company, U-Haul Co of California, has agreed to pay more than $1.1 million (AUD1.68 million) in civil penalties to settle asbestos-related breaches from one of its sites in Santa Maria.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney John Savrnoch explained that the alleged civil violations were the result of the company’s failure to handle asbestos-containing materials properly during renovation works at the storage facility.

According to the complaint by the People, employees of the company conducted demolition works at the facility, including removing the flooring in the space – which was about 6,000 square metres – in the autumn of 2019.

A local resident witnessed the removal of the asbestos-containing material and reported it to the local safety regulator, the Santa Barbara County Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA).

CUPA, and inspectors from the county Air Pollution Control District (APCD), attended the site to conduct an investigation. They found broken floor tiles and other debris in an uncovered dumpster outside the facility. Inside the building, they found vinyl tiles and glue containing asbestos.

“Although the facility was built in the 1970s, UHCA (U-Haul of Calif.) did not conduct any asbestos surveys prior to removing the tiles,” said Savrnoch.

“As a result, UHCA failed to take required safety precautions for asbestos work, including using appropriate safety gear and removal methods and posting signage warning employees and the public about the work being conducted and the asbestos-containing materials being placed in the uncovered dumpster.”

The District Attorney’s office noted that in the original complaint, the company was also accused of improperly disposing of “over 32,200 pounds of debris, including the vinyl tiles and mastic glue, at a facility not authorised to handle asbestos-containing material, which is characterised as hazardous waste.”

U-Haul Co has agreed to pay $1,123,000 in addition to investigative costs to settle the breaches. Savrnoch explained that approximately ten per cent of the fine would fund environmental projects in the Santa Maria community.

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