A Community at Risk: The Waukegan Hospital Asbestos Incident

A Community at Risk: The Waukegan Hospital Asbestos Incident


Asbestos is an inherently fibrous mineral that was widely used in construction due to its heat-resistant and insulating characteristics. But as time passed, its health-deterring effects started showing out, making it a mute killer for the construction employees and workers at demolition sites.

Each year 1,290 asbestos deaths happen in the U.S. each year, according to C.D.C.
WHO reports more than 90,000 people die globally each year from asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma.

Recently, the Waukegan Hospital demolition highlighted this issue, that aging buildings have asbestos present, and exposure to it is a critical health risk for workers and the surrounding population. Therefore, in this article, we will delve deeper into the incident, understand the implications of asbestos exposure and identify ways of tackling it correctly.

Gaining Insight into the Waukegan Hospital demolition:

K.L.F. Enterprises, a Chicago-based demolition subcontractor, exposed employees to asbestos without proper protection during the demolition of the former Lakes Behavioral Health hospital. Despite knowing about the presence of asbestos on the worksite, the company continued the project without taking necessary precautions or informing employees and other contractors.

They didn't provide protective equipment and training to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals such as asbestos, lead and silica. Not only this, but there was also no provision for medical surveillance for the workers in case of exposure to these chemicals. Additionally, K.L.F. did not ensure fall protection around floor openings. These actions led to citations for willful and serious violations of OSHA regulations.

OSHA's Response to Asbestos Exposure Incident:

In November 2023, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began an inspection after observing K.L.F. employees without protective equipment among piles of debris and steel I-beams during the demolition of the eight-story former Lakes Behavioral Health hospital.

OSHA issued 36 violations and proposed penalties of $392,002

OSHA cited K.L.F. for intentional exposure to asbestos, not informing the parties about its presence, disregarding the safety measures, and continuing the demolition tasks that disturbed the asbestos.

OSHA held Covington L.L.C, the hospital owner, responsible for not complying with the federal abetment standards along with Reed Construction, the general contractor. Both the entities were assessed with penalties by OSHA.

OSHA's stance makes all the parties responsible for prioritizing the safety of workers and ensuring compliance with hazardous material regulations.

The penalties charged highlight the violation's severity and possible long-term health consequences of asbestos exposure that leads to diseases such as lung cancer.

Understanding the Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals:

Exposure to Asbestos:

Asbestos exposure occurs when people come in close contact with asbestos and ingest or inhale its fibers. Inhaling or digesting asbestos fibers causes scarring and inflammation over time. This brings about severe and life-threatening health conditions such as mesothelioma (a rare and aggressive cancer type that damages the lungs and abdomen lining), Lung cancer, and asbestosis (a long-lasting health condition due to scarring). Asbestos fibers level and duration increase the risk of developing these diseases. Low-level exposure is harmful too as the fiber stays in the body for decades before leading to adverse health effects.

Human Lungs Getting Asbestos Exposure.

Exposure to Silica:

Silica dust is 100 times smaller than sand grains, and you can breathe it without knowing.

Silica dust exposure leads to lung cancer development, kidney diseases, silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Almost 230 people develop lung cancer each year because of silica dust exposure at the workplace.

Exposure to Lead:

Lead exposure occurs when lead enters the body while swallowing, or breathing materials contaminated with lead such as petrol or old paints. In the body, lead affects multiple organ systems. Lead exposure causes diseases such as neurological illnesses, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney diseases and anemia.

How to Prevent Chemical Exposure at the Workplace?

Ensuring a safe work environment is paramount, particularly when dealing with hazardous substances. Preventing chemical exposure at the workplace not only protects the health and well-being of employees but also promotes productivity and compliance with regulatory standards. By implementing these measures, businesses can create a safer and more secure working environment for everyone.

Asbestos Survey and Planning:

  • Perform a detailed survey to recognize the presence and location of asbestos-containing materials (A.C.M.s).
  • Employers should also create a detailed asbestos abatement plan that outlines safe removal/encapsulation procedures.

Worker Protection:

  • Workers must be donning the appropriate protective clothing, such as coveralls or aprons, which can further reduce the risk of skin exposure.
  • Exposure to hazardous materials can be prevented by providing workers with appropriate respirators based on the type and level of chemical exposure that can protect their respiratory system.

Engineering Controls:

Apply engineering controls such as decontamination units, negative air pressure enclosures, and wet methods to stop the fiber release.

A worker wearing PPE in asbestos exposed environment.

Compliance and Communication:

  • Alert the building owners, general contractors and other related parties about the asbestos presence and abatement plans.
  • Strictly follow all the applicable state, federal and local asbestos abatement regulations. Remember the penalty of asbestos exposure death is more than $300k on one death.

Training & Awareness:

  • Conduct regular and comprehensive training sessions for all employees on the proper handling, identification, and safety procedures related to asbestos, lead, and silica.
  • Educate employees about the health hazards associated with exposure to these harmful substances.
  • Train employees on the correct use and maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to minimize exposure to hazardous substances.

How Do We Ensure Safety?

Learning from the Waukegan Hospital demolition, employers must focus on providing asbestos awareness training to all their relevant employees.

HAZWOPER OSHA, Training L.L.C. has designed detailed training on asbestos, silica and lead awareness. We as industry experts have seasoned trainers who have trained thousands of workers in the U.S. We strive hard to make sure that you get the highest quality training, meeting your specific needs and available in your preferred formats.


The Waukegan Hospital incident emphasizes the critical obligation for comprehensive asbestos awareness training in the construction Industry.

By staying compliant with OSHA regulations, employers can not only save lives and the environment but save themselves from hefty penalties in case of an incident.


Mesothelioma Hope, May 8, 2024, Asbestos Statistics, https://www.mesotheliomahope.com/asbestos/statistics

Lake & MCHENRY COUNTY SCANNER, May 15, 2024, OSHA cites multiple companies, says demolition of former hospital in Waukegan led to ‘serious dangers of asbestos’, https://www.lakemchenryscanner.com/2024/05/15/osha-cites-multiple-companies-says-demolition-of-former-hospital-in-waukegan-led-to-serious-dangers-of-asbestos/

World Health Organization. (2023). Asbestos: Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases. https://www.who.int/teams/environment-climate-change-and-health/chemical-safety-and-health/asbestos

National Cancer Institute. (2023). Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestosA

Health and Safety Executive, A worker's guide to asbestos safety, https://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/workers.htm

Safety.BLR.com, May 20, 2024, OSHA cites subcontractor for asbestos exposures in hospital demolition, https://safety.blr.com/workplace-safety-news/safety-administration/OSHA-and-state-safety-compliance-enforcement/OSHA-cites-subcontractor-for-asbestos-exposures-in/vv

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Lead, https://www.osha.gov/lead

Published on: June 3, 2024