Minimizing Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace

Broken Asbestos Products

The terms chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite or actonolite aren’t exactly commonplace. However, their more common name, asbestos, is all too familiar to many.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fiber that is very resistant to heat, chemicals and corrosion; and has a high tensile strength. These properties make the material useful in many different types of products, including automotive brakes, roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, insulation, fire blankets, concrete, pipes, drywall, protective clothing, stage curtains, lawn furniture and joint compound. During World War II, asbestos was also used extensively in ships to wrap pipes, cover engines and turbine parts, and line boilers. Many schools also used it to provide fire protection.

Asbestos fibers are often too small to be seen by the human eye, but they can remain suspended in air for a long time and are easily inhaled. When inhaled, they can cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis (scaring of the lungs,) mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer) and other breathing problems. Often, these diseases take years to develop.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began regulating employee exposure to asbestos in 1972, and there are specific standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910.1001,) construction (29 CFR 1926.1101,) and shipyards (29 CFR 1915.1001.) These standards require employers to develop a written plan that discusses exposure, and establishes processes or procedures for minimizing the hazard.

To determine if a plan is needed, air monitoring must be conducted. If employees are exposed to more than 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of (1 f/cc) over an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) day, or the short term Excursion Limit (ELT), of 1.0 fiber per cubic centimeter of air (0.1 f/cc) as averaged over a sampling period of 30 minutes ; a plan must be created.

The plan must outline a training program for employees. The following are also required or recommended planning elements:

  • Conduct air monitoring to determine exposure.
  • Create controlled zones or “regulated areas” where asbestos work is performed; and limit access to this area to authorized personnel who have been trained and are wearing the proper personal protective equipment.
  • Prohibit eating, smoking, drinking, chewing tobacco or gum and applying cosmetics in these zones or areas
  • Provide medical examinations for affected employees
  • Display warning signs
  • Do not allow removal of contaminated clothing from shower and or changing rooms. Use closed containers to store clothing until it is laundered or disposed of
  • Do not use pressurized air to remove dust. Use a HEPA vacuum instead
  • Seal wastes in properly marked bags
  • Conduct air monitoring at least once every six months.
  • Maintain monitoring records, training records and medical records

OSHA has developed an asbestos software package to assist employers in creating plans. They also have an asbestos self inspection checklist and other educational materials on their website.

This is a guest post from Karen Hamel, who is the EHS & Technical Specialist at New Pig. New Pig is a multi-channel, multi-brand manufacturer and merchandiser offering the world’s largest selection of absorbent products and other industrial safety products to help workplaces keep a clean, safe environment. Have a question or comment? Let us know in the comments.

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