Former Psychiatric Hospital Became Worksite of Horrors


Sign that reads "Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center Campus" that is partially covered in overgrown grass

Lee este artículo en español.

There’s an old, abandoned state mental hospital called the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in Dover, New York, about one and a half hours north of New York City. Everyone who lives in the area knows the stories about it being haunted. What few knew was that it was a site of real horrors for a number of workers in 2013.

A few days before Halloween, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration went to check out the old hospital complex − which was being transformed by Olivet Management into a college – after receiving a complaint.

What investigators found was pretty frightening: Workers were sweeping and scraping lead paint off the walls and cleaning up crumbling asbestos tile without using safe removal methods, such as wetting and vacuuming, and no one was wearing a respirator. Olivet, which was acting as its own general contractor, hadn’t informed the workers about the hazards. Dozens were potentially exposed to neurological damage from lead and to fatal lung disease from asbestos during the time the work was being done.

Workers scraping paint off walls with no protection

OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Asbestos Control Board worked together to stop work at the site, and OSHA issued twenty-four willful citations to Olivet with penalties totaling $2.3 million. As the Labor Department’s legal counsel for the region, we got involved when Olivet contested the citations and wanted to litigate.

Fortunately, this scary story has a positive ending. Working with OSHA, we reached a settlement with the employer, which is now known as Dover Greens LLC, to set the work conditions on the right path. Dover Greens will continue to transform the ruins of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center into a college and research center, but the project will be run by an experienced general contractor and monitored by an independent safety and health consultant. Subcontractors will be properly selected and trained and will follow a sitewide safety program.

All of the workers who may have been exposed to asbestos at the site will receive assistance. Notices are being given to the workers in English, Spanish and Korean about how they can receive compensation if they develop asbestosis later in life. Dover Greens accepted the entire $2.3 million penalty and will pay a portion of it over time, while the rest will be held to ensure that the settlement terms are met. We want to make sure that workers are not haunted by dangerous conditions long after their work has ended.

Editor’s note: If you believe there is a serious hazard at your worksite or that your employer is not following OSHA standards, find more information or file a complaint at www.osha.gov.

Jeffrey Rogoff is the regional solicitor and Darren Cohen is the deputy regional solicitor in the department’s Office of the Solicitor in New York.

Antiguo Psiquiátrico Se Convirtió en Espeluznante Lugar de Trabajo

Por Darren Cohen y Jeffrey Rogoff

El Centro Psiquiátrico Harlem Valley, de Dover, en Nueva York, es un viejo y abandonado hospital psiquiátrico estatal que se encuentra aproximadamente a una hora y media al norte de la ciudad de Nueva York. Los que viven en sus proximidades cuentan historias que apuntan a que el sitio está poco menos que embrujado. Lo que muy pocos saben sin embargo es que este hospital se convirtió en un espeluznante lugar de trabajo para un grupo de trabajadores en 2013.

Sign that reads "Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center Campus" that is partially covered in overgrown grass

Pocos días antes de Halloween y tras recibir una queja, efectivos de la Administración de Seguridad y Salud Ocupacional del Departamento de Trabajo de EE.UU. acudieron a inspeccionar el antiguo complejo hospitalario. Es esos momentos, la empresa Olivet Management lo estaba transformando para convertirlo en la nueva sede de una universidad.

Con lo que allí se encontraron los investigadores al llegar no fue nada bueno: vieron a trabajadores barriendo y raspando paredes de pintura con plomo y limpiando paneles en descomposición con asbesto sin utilizar métodos seguros como humectación o aspiradores. Tampoco nadie estaba usando mascarillas o aparatos respiradores de seguridad.

Olivet, que ejercía como su propio contratista general, no había informado a los trabajadores de los peligros asociados con estas actividades laborales. Docenas de empleados habían estado potencialmente expuestos a daños neurológicos debido al plomo así como a enfermedades pulmonares mortales a causa del asbesto.

Workers scraping paint off walls with no protection

OSHA, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental y la Junta de Nueva York para el Control del Asbesto se pusieron juntos a la labor de detener de inmediato y por completo el trabajo en ese lugar. Al final, OSHA terminó cursando 24 notificaciones contra Olivet por un monto total de $2,3 millones en concepto de violaciones deliberadas a la seguridad y salud de los trabajadores. Como abogados del Departamento de Trabajo en la región, nosotros nos involucramos en el caso cuando Olivet rechazó los dictámenes de OSHA y se dispuso a litigar el caso en la corte.

Afortunadamente, esta historia tiene un final positivo, ya que logramos llegar a un acuerdo con el empleador, conocido ahora como Dover Greens LLC, para implantar los parámetros correctos sobre cómo realizar el trabajo. Dover Greens continuará transformando las ruinas del Centro Psiquiátrico Harlem Valley para convertirlo en una universidad y en un centro de investigación.

A partir de ahora, sin embargo, el proyecto estará dirigido por un contratista general experimentado y será supervisado por un consultor independiente de seguridad y salud. Además, los subcontratistas serán cuidadosamente seleccionados y entrenados, y seguirán dictámenes de un programa de seguridad del estado.

Todos los trabajadores que puedan haber estado expuestos al asbesto en ese lugar de trabajo recibirán asistencia. Se les están dando hojas informativas en inglés, español y coreano sobre cómo pueden recibir compensación caso que desarrollen asbestosis en el futuro.

Dover Greens aceptó pagar la totalidad de los $2,3 millones en multas; abonará una parte a plazos, y el resto será guardado para asegurar que se cumplen los términos del acuerdo suscrito.

Queremos estar seguros de que a los trabajadores no les persigan a futuro peligrosas secuelas de su posible exposición, ya cuando hayan pasado muchos años de ocurridos estos hechos.

Nota del editor: Si usted cree que hay un serio peligro en su lugar de trabajo o que su empleador no cumple las normas de OSHA, encuentre más información o presente una queja visitandowww.osha.gov

Jeffrey Rogoff es procurador regional de Oficina del Procurador del departamento en Nueva York, y Darren Cohen es procurador regional adjunto.


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Comments

My understanding is that fines issued by OSHA are paid to the US Government's General Fund. OSHA cannot use fines as a method of raising funds for its own use. This is a "safeguard" established in the OSH Act of 1970 so that people could not blame OSHA for unjust penalties just so that OSHA could make money for itself. It help protect the objective impartiality of the OSHA investigators. Also, since the money gets paid to the US government, you can bet the workers won't see a dime.

Thank you OSHA for protecting our workers. I can't imagine where our country would be without you.

I wish I could say that I had any faith at all that the 2.3 million in potential fines would not be reduced to much more than a penny per dollar. I've seen it far too many times to harbor any positive belief that when all is said and done Olivet will barely feel the slap on their mediforical wrist

Holy smokes! I was a good thing OSHA took a closer look. We are our brothers keeper.

Interesting article. First question. How many employees were exposed to asbestos and have suffered an illness related to it. Second, how many acquired lead exposure due to the work they were performing. There's also a portion of this article that is slightly glossed over. When reading the actual settlement - it was only 700K and the remaining fine be held in "abeyance and becomes payable immediately if the company fails to comply with the specific terms of the settlement." https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELE.... The article insinuates that the money might be for employees (hence the last sentence: "We want to make sure that workers are not haunted by dangerous conditions long after their work has ended.) I'm glad this company was held accountable for their putting people in harms way. I'm concerned about the headline article trying to sensationalize the event, and I think that's a problem in general with the DOL blog.

Most unionized construction workers would never let this happen.

If the information had to be given to the workers in English, Spanish and Korean (Hangul), why is this article only in English and Spanish?

most osha investigators are great! be causious though i filled a complaint due to my employer violating laws and my termination. his reprt mirrored the companys view . i then appealed the detirmination with my employers attorneys own corrispondence. and requested and investigation into the invesigator due to wording was pharagraphs were identical. and opinion with conjector. most of them are great. but osha if you would like some info here. the company i worked for was rumored to use casino comp as motivating factor to investigators and others.

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