Safety Tips Workplace exposure

Keeping workers safe from asbestos


Photo: bermau/iStockphoto

Asbestos, a group of minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers, was once touted as a “miracle product” for its strength and ability to resist corrosion and fire. However, asbestos can be extremely dangerous to workers, and is now known to cause cancer in humans.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers are released into the air. “Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death,” OSHA warns. “Asbestos also causes cancer of the lung and other diseases such as mesothelioma of the pleura, which is a fatal malignant tumor of the membrane lining the cavity of the lung or stomach.”

OSHA has three standards in place regarding asbestos: one for general industry (1910.1001) that covers scenarios such as “exposure during brake and clutch repair, maintenance work, and manufacture of asbestos-containing products”; one for shipyards (1915.1001) that “covers construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos during work in shipyards”; and one for construction (1926.1101) that “covers construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, or renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos.”

These standards offer a variety of protections, including a permissible exposure limit of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air over an 8-hour time-weighted average, with an excursion limit of 1.0 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period.

OSHA also notes that an assessment of workplaces covered by these standards must be completed first to determine whether asbestos is present. Then, the workplaces must be monitored “to detect if asbestos exposure is at or above the PEL or EL for workers who are, or may be expected to be, exposed to asbestos.” If the exposure exceeds the PEL or EL, employers must provide engineering controls and work practices to the extent feasible to keep it at or below the PEL and EL, according to the agency.

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