Recently the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) expanded and updated its Asbestos Fact Sheet. Within the Fact Sheet, the agency also discussed its various standards and regulations for protecting workers from dangerous asbestos exposure.
The sheet states that occupations working with asbestos-containing flooring materials (in the general industry) are protected by three OSHA Asbestos standards: 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.1001 (general industry), 29 CFR 1915.1001 (shipyards) and 29 CFR 1926.1101 (construction).
In an effort to protect general industry workers from asbestos exposure, the regulations contain the following worker protections:
- Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL): The PEL for asbestos is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA). The excursion limit (EL, also known as the maximum exposure allowable for each individual over a short period) is 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure workers are not exposed above these limits.
- Assessment: Workplaces covered by the above standards should be assessed to determine if asbestos is present or if the job duties will release asbestos fibers into the air.
- Monitoring: Regular monitoring should be conducted to determine if asbestos exposure is at or above PEL or EL for workers who are or could be exposed to asbestos. If the exposure is above PEL or EL levels, it is the employer’s responsibility to use proper engineering controls and work practices to keep exposure at or below PEL or EL levels. In circumstances where engineering controls cannot keep the exposure at or below PEL or EL levels, the employer must provide proper respiratory protection to meet the PEL.
- Hazard communication and demarcation: Employers must provide warning signs with specified language in areas that have asbestos exposure above the PEL or EL levels. No smoking, drinking or eating is allowed in these areas and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided.
- Decontamination and lunch areas: These areas should be kept separate. To avoid contamination, proper hygiene must be provided to workers exposed to PEL before they can enter these areas.
- Training: Initial and annual training must be provided to workers exposed to PEL in a format and language they can understand. Workers responsible for housekeeping in areas of PEL should also receive the training.
- Medical surveillance: Medical examinations must be provided to workers who experience exposures at or above the PEL.
- Records: Records should be maintained for all asbestos exposure for at least 30 years. Medical surveillance records should be maintained for the duration of an employee’s employment plus an additional 30 years following. Training records must be kept for at least one year following the initial date of employment.