Although asbestos exposure is never safe, the permissible exposure limit in the workplace set by OSHA is 0.1 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air
On March 31, 1971, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified asbestos as a known human carcinogen. Ever since then, both EPA and OSHA have been striving to raise awareness about the health dangers of asbestos exposure and most importantly, to issue and enforce safety regulations for people who still encounter this toxic agent in the workplace. Nowadays, there are multiple federal laws aimed at preventing or at least minimizing asbestos exposure in occupational settings, each focusing on specific aspects of asbestos work. The main effective asbestos regulations are EPA's Asbestos Worker Protection Rule (40 CFR Part 763, Subpart G) and OSHA's General Industry Standard (29 CFR 1910.1001) and Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926.1101).
OSHA's asbestos standards
The asbestos regulations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration apply to private-sector workers, as well as to state and local government workers. They are currently effective in 23 states. By virtue of these asbestos laws, workers have the legal right to be informed regarding any asbestos hazard they might encounter during their job. Additionally, if asbestos might be present in a certain occupational setting, employers also need to notify workers and people in close proximity to the site by:
- posting signs at the entrance of areas with asbestos-containing materials or where asbestos work is in progress
- providing construction and maintenance workers with adequate training in regard to the dangers of asbestos exposure, how to recognize damaged asbestos-containing products, proper work practices, how to proceed when asbestos becomes airborne, as well as how protective equipment should be worn
- putting labels on asbestos-containing materials and asbestos waste
- issuing a notification of asbestos work to people who will be near the area where asbestos work is being performed
According to OSHA, there is no safe asbestos exposure. Nevertheless, as numerous medical studies suggest that the risk of developing a disease is partly influenced by the amount of airborne asbestos fibers one comes in contact with, the federal agency set up a limit of exposure for asbestos workers. Thus, the permissible exposure limit is 0.1 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air, which is measured over an eight-hour shift. Employers must ensure the level of airborne asbestos fibers remains below this limit throughout the entire duration of asbestos work. Although there is still a risk of contamination, OSHA's limit reduces asbestos hazard considerably.
These are the two OSHA asbestos regulations effective at the moment:
- General Industry Standard (29 CFR 1910.1001), which pertains to routine housekeeping activities in buildings and to asbestos-containing automotive components repair
- Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926.1101), which concerns activities during which asbestos is encapsulated or removed (such as demolition and renovation operations), as well as building maintenance, repair activities, and emergency cleanup of asbestos spills
The latter OSHA regulation refers specifically to asbestos abatement. According to it, there are four types of asbestos work, each entailing a series of different safety requirements, as follows:
- class I asbestos work - activities during which thermal system insulation (pipe and boiler covering) or surfacing material such as spray-on fireproofing is removed
- class II asbestos work - the abatement of asbestos-containing roofing, floor tiles and sheeting, wallboard or mastics
- class III asbestos work, concerning repair and maintenance operations over the course of which asbestos-containing materials might be disturbed
- class IV asbestos work, involving maintenance and custodial activities during which employees handle asbestos-containing materials or clean up asbestos waste
The first three types of asbestos work must be performed within regulated areas which are clearly marked and where only trained, authorized personnel have access. To prevent exposure, no one is allowed to enter these areas without wearing protective clothing and respirators. According to OSHA, dust masks are not appropriate when it comes to preventing the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Instead, the minimum protection workers have to wear is a half-mask, air-purifying respirator with HEPA filters. As for the fourth class of asbestos work, it also has to be conducted within a regulated space if the permissible exposure limit is likely to be exceeded.
The EPA's asbestos worker protection rule
This regulation was enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the purpose of extending worker protection requirements to state and local government employees involved in asbestos work who were not previously granted protection by OSHA's regulations. The provisions of EPA's Asbestos Worker Protection Rule are the following:
- employers conducting construction activities in which asbestos-containing materials might be present must comply with OSHA's Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926.1101)
- they must also submit notifications to EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention for alternative control methods
- employers who intend to conduct activities which are not covered by OSHA's Construction Standard, such as the repair or replacement of asbestos-containing automotive components, must comply with the agency's General Industry Standard (29 CFR 1910.1001)
Finally, both the EPA and OSHA forbid the following asbestos-related work activities:
- dusting, shoveling, dry sweeping or vacuuming asbestos-containing materials, dust, debris or waste
- cleaning surfaces where asbestos is present with compressed air without a special ventilation system
- sanding asbestos-containing flooring material
Are you or a family member suffering from a disease as a consequence of occupational asbestos exposure? If so, it is crucial to know that you are eligible for financial compensation, which can easily cover the cost of your treatment, as well as other medical expenses. With the assistance of a highly experienced lawyer specialized in asbestos litigation, most asbestos victims recover compensation from asbestos trust funds in less than one year.