Asbestos Inspection: Reporting Asbestos in the Workplace
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can occur naturally in rock and soil.
Because asbestos has special properties like heat resistance and fiber strength, it was incredibly common in building materials and other products produced from the late 1800s through the 1970s.
After 1980, high-risk asbestos products were banned, as was domestic asbestos manufacturing. In the following decades, various lawsuits and asbestos injury claims discouraged companies from importing and using asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
However, asbestos was never fully banned, so it never completely disappeared from the market.
What Are the Dangers of Asbestos?
Asbestos fibers are incredibly small and durable. That means it's very easy to inhale asbestos deep into your lungs, where it remains and causes scarring, loss of lung function, susceptibility to infectious disease, and an increased risk of lung cancer. Lung problems can then cause heart disease. Asbestos hazards can also cause stomach cancer and diseases in other organ systems.
Any level of asbestos exposure is unsafe and has the potential to lead to disability or death.
Due to the degree of risk associated with asbestos, as well as the seriousness of the consequences, property owners and employers have a responsibility to report asbestos hazards to affected parties.
Who's at Risk for Asbestos in the Workplace?
Before asbestos was restricted in 1980, most exposures to asbestos in the workplace happened during asbestos product manufacturing.
Since that's no longer allowed, workplace asbestos hazards now largely come from encounters with pre-existing asbestos. The dangers of asbestos come into play when ACMs are damaged or disturbed, releasing asbestos fibers into the air where they can be inhaled.
Old construction is one of the most common places where you find ACMs, especially buildings erected or remodeled between 1870 and 1990.
This puts construction workers and contractors at risk of asbestos injury if they're involved in repair, renovation, remodeling, or demolition.
Asbestos can also be disturbed by natural phenomena like water, hail, and wind damage, so anyone involved in disaster cleanup (after, for example, a storm) may also be at risk.
SST 1-Hour Asbestos/Lead Awareness
Hazards of Asbestos in the Workplace (Construction)
Hazards of Asbestos in the Workplace (General)
Legal Liabilities of Asbestos Inspectors
How Can You Identify Asbestos Hazards on Construction Projects?
To definitively identify asbestos hazards, you need a professional.
While asbestos fibers are sometimes identifiable to the naked eye, the ACM has to be damaged first, which means that you're already at risk for the dangers of asbestos exposure. In other cases, asbestos is well-distributed among other materials so it's impossible to see – asbestos fibers can be 18,000 times thinner than a human hair.
ACMs can also appear almost anywhere in old construction. They were used in drywall, siding, cement sheets, roof shingles, insulation, ceiling tiles/material, pipe/duct coverings, putty, plaster, caulking, and more.
An asbestos building inspection and lab testing through an experienced asbestos worker is the only way to know for certain if building materials contain asbestos.
Who Performs Asbestos Building Inspections?
Asbestos inspections are a specialized service performed by abatement professionals. The required training and qualifications for asbestos inspectors vary by local jurisdiction.
Most construction and demolition professionals need some level of asbestos awareness training, but remediation or abatement professionals (also known as asbestos workers) generally have a higher level of training in identifying asbestos hazards, as well as techniques for minimizing risks while working with asbestos.
Where Do You Find OSHA Asbestos Safety Standards?
OSHA's asbestos safety standard can be found under 29 CFR 1910.1001 for general industry and §1926.1101 for construction.
Both of these standards set the requirements for working with asbestos, including:
- Asbestos exposure monitoring
- The establishment of regulated areas where there's a high airborne concentration
- Engineering controls, housekeeping and work practices that must be used
- PPE (including respiratory protection) for exposed workers
- The measures for safe decontamination when exiting restricted areas
- Communication and training for asbestos workers and others
- Safe disposal of ACMs
- The required medical surveillance and recordkeeping programs
OSHA asbestos awareness training has to be repeated at least once a year for workers that have an exposure risk.
Do Any Other Regulations Apply Beyond OSHA Asbestos Standards?
Aside from OSHA asbestos regulations, asbestos workers and asbestos hazards are subject to EPA standards as well.
OSHA standards don’t normally apply to state and local employees, but the EPA's Asbestos Worker Protection Rule extends OSHA's asbestos standards to these workers.
Additionally, demolition work has to follow the EPA's Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP, 40 CFR 61 Subpart M).
Where Do You Find OSHA Asbestos Compliance Training?
OSHA requires workers who may be exposed to asbestos hazards to complete some degree of asbestos awareness training.
Our online asbestos safety training lets you fulfill this requirement at your own pace and convenience. Enroll today!