OSHA Requirements About Asbestos & Commercial Buildings
Known for its fire-resistant properties, asbestos was once commonly used in everything from car brake pads to construction materials. In the mid-1980s, asbestos exposure was linked to lung scarring, lung cancer, and various other health concerns.
Many people who worked in construction, plumbing, HVAC, and other occupations in which they were exposed to high levels of asbestos found themselves battling debilitating and even deadly conditions.
Who Is At Risk for Exposure?
Asbestos stopped being used prominently in construction in the late 1980s. It was partially banned in 1989 and is rarely used today. Those who work in commercial buildings built before 1980 may still be at risk for exposure to asbestos. Unless a thorough asbestos removal process has already occurred in your building, it is likely still present in moldings, ceiling tiles, insulation, and other components.
When left alone and in good condition, asbestos-containing materials do not emit particles into the air, and there is little risk to employees. It’s only when they are damaged or disturbed that they become more dangerous. For this reason, most of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines for asbestos safety revolve around the cleaning, handling, and removal of materials that contain asbestos.
OSHA regulations regarding acceptable levels of exposure to asbestos are determined by the type of work being completed. OSHA breaks construction practices into four classes with Class IV being the lowest and Class I being the most hazardous. Class IV involves cleanup and removal of waste that contains asbestos or debris from demolition and other construction activities. Class I involves the removal and handling of any materials containing asbestos. As the level with the highest risk, Class I activities are the most highly regulated.
For employees at all class levels, there are guidelines for levels of exposure. According to the OSHA website, “Employers must ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 0.1 f/cc as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). In addition, employees must not be exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 1 f/cc as averaged over a sampling period of 30 minutes.”
How to Reduce the Risk for Employees
If you manage a commercial building in which maintenance and cleaning personnel may be exposed to asbestos, the best ways to keep them safe are to limit their time of exposure and provide protective gear for anyone who may need to handle materials containing asbestos. If your building was constructed before 1990, you should assume that cleaning and maintenance personnel will likely come into contact with materials containing asbestos. OSHA requires that asbestos identification and abatement must be done by a “competent person,” which requires a special certification.
Monitoring for Asbestos
Make sure your employees aren’t being exposed from the beginning by testing and monitoring for asbestos. Having a professional company come out for an asbestos inspection can help you determine the potential level of exposure for cleaning, maintenance, and repair workers, as well as for those who are in the building regularly. If your inspection reveals high levels of asbestos, you may want to have the company do the thorough asbestos removal.
OSHA Regulations for Renovation of Commercial Buildings
Asbestos is most dangerous when it is disturbed. If you own an older commercial building, be prepared for renovations or other alterations to damage the original building materials. This includes repairs to ductwork and other components of the HVAC system that may contain asbestos.
Before beginning any work, the area being renovated needs to be inspected. Leave the inspection to a professional firm, as OSHA has strict requirements guiding testing and removal. If an inspector determines that there is asbestos present in an area that is going to be renovated or repaired, steps should be taken to minimize its exposure to employees who work in the building.
The best way to protect employees is to have a professional company perform asbestos removal and/or abatement prior to any renovations or repairs. You’ll also need to take steps to ensure that construction debris is contained and particles don’t travel to other parts of the building.
Training and Signage
Most employees will not be at risk of exposure if asbestos-containing materials are not disturbed. But cleaning and maintenance workers should be carefully trained so they don’t accidentally release asbestos particles into the air.
Comprehensive instruction to these workers can help prevent them from drilling, cutting, or engaging in other activities that can disturb finishes and create dust. Since there is often high turnover in these positions, adding warning signage throughout the building will help workers to identify materials that should not be disturbed.
Signage should indicate that the materials in the area contain asbestos and should not be exposed to any activities that create dust.
Commercial buildings include offices, retail spaces, multi-unit apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and many other businesses. As the owner of a commercial building, you are required to notify occupants, employees, retail tenants, apartment occupants, and others who spend significant amounts of time in the building if asbestos is present.
Before completing any repairs or renovations that could result in dust and debris, occupants of the building should be notified and cleared out of the building while repairs are underway.
The consequences of asbestos exposure can be severe, and keeping employees safe while they are at work is a top priority for any building owner. If your building is older and has not been tested for asbestos, schedule an inspection. When employees and other building occupants know that materials in the building contain asbestos, they can avoid disturbing these materials.
When you’re renovating or repairing your building, conduct the inspection prior to beginning work, and make sure that all construction workers have proper protective equipment. Taking these simple steps will ensure that your employees are not exposed and that your tenants and other building occupants are safe and healthy.
How Asbestos Project Management Can Help
Our team of abatement professionals can test and inspect your building for asbestos and remove any fibers that might be present. When removing asbestos we adhere to all of the OSHA standards and requirements, if you’re concerned about possible asbestos exposure in your commercial building, contact us today to schedule your inspection.Back To Blog