Throughout the 20th century, while asbestos use was at its height of popularity, few precautions were taken to protect workers from exposure to asbestos dust. Employees from a wide range of industries were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. Some of those occupations include:
- Automobile mechanics
- Construction workers
- Industrial plant workers
- Maintenance workers
- Pipe fitters
- Tile setters
- Railroad workers
- U.S. Navy veterans
- and more
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, set up three standards designed to protect workers from exposure to asbestos in the workplace. These standards cover the following occupations:
- 29 CFR 1926.1101
This covers construction work which may include alteration, repair, renovation and demolition of structures that may contain asbestos.
- 29 CFR 1915.1001
This standard covers work in shipyards that may result in asbestos exposure.
- 29 CFR 1910.1001
This covers asbestos exposure for general industry occupations, such as exposure during brake and clutch repair, custodial work and the manufacture of products containing asbestos.
Guidelines have been established as to the allowable exposure limit among occupations that may come in contact with asbestos. The OSHA states that exposure to asbestos among employees cannot exceed 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air over the period of an 8-hour shift. Short term exposure cannot exceed more than 1 f/cc over a period of 30 minutes. Employers are prohibited from rotating employees to comply with these exposure limits.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with its regulatory authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is responsible for protecting state and local employees who may be exposed to asbestos in states that do not have a OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plan in place.