Why your trace asbestos project is still OSHA-regulated
Asbestos projects containing building materials with greater than 1% asbestos are regulated by the U.S. EPA. So, if your building comes back with lower asbestos amounts, you’re off the hook, right?
Not so fast. Projects with any amount of asbestos are still covered by OSHA worker protection requirements.
Even if a material does not have enough asbestos content to qualify as an EPA-regulated hazardous material, you still need to protect workers from unsafe exposure to asbestos.
What asbestos-containing materials are covered by the Asbestos Construction Standard?
Most materials that contain any percentage of asbestos are covered by the Asbestos Construction Standard (OSHA 29 CFR Part 1926.1101). The few exceptions include asbestos-containing roof coatings, mastics and cements.
What projects does the Asbestos Construction Standard cover?
OSHA’s Asbestos Construction Standard covers any projects where asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are present and:
- Structures are being demolished or salvaged.
- ACMs are being removed and/or encapsulated.
- ACMs are being altered, installed, constructed, repaired, maintained or renovated.
- Spilled or damaged ACMs are being cleaned up.
- ACMs are being transported, stored, disposed of or cleaned on a construction site.
Are materials that contain < 1% asbestos (trace asbestos) covered by the Asbestos Construction Standard?
Yes! The Asbestos Construction Standard mandates a handful of engineering controls and work practices regardless of the asbestos percentage and exposure level. Those requirements are covered in section 29 CFR 1926.1101(g) and include*:
- (1)(ii) – Required use of wet methods, or wetting agents, to control employee exposures during certain activities;
- (1)(iii) – Required prompt clean-up and disposal of ACM waste and debris;
- (3)(i) – Prohibition of high-speed abrasive disc saws that are not equipped with point-of-cut ventilator or enclosures with HEPA-filtered exhaust air;
- (3)(ii) – Prohibition of use of unenclosed compressed air used to remove asbestos, or materials containing asbestos;
- (3)(iv) – Prohibition of employers from rotating employees to reduce employee exposure to asbestos.
What if the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is not exceeded?*
If you can show that the PEL will not be exceeded by activities involving trace asbestos, then you can forego the engineering controls and simply follow a handful of activity guidelines outlined by the Standard 29 CFR 1926.1101*:
- (f)(2)(i) – A “competent person” must conduct an exposure assessment to ensure that neither asbestos PEL is exceeded.
- (f)(6)(i) – Affected affected employees must be given the opportunity to observe monitoring of employee exposure to asbestos.
- (f)(5)(i) – Employers must promptly notify employees of their exposure monitoring results.
- (f)(5)(ii) – Employee notification must either be provided individually in writing, or posted in a central location where affected employees can easily view their results.
- (n)(2)(i)-(iii) – A set of provisions covering record keeping of measurements of airborne asbestos exposure.
What is the PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit) for asbestos exposure?
OSHA’s Asbestos Construction Standard (OSHA 29 CFR 1926.1101) states that employees should not be exposed to an airborne concentration (Permissible Exposure Limit) of asbestos greater than:
- 0.1 f/cc as an 8-hour time-weighted average (PEL), or
- 1 f/cc averaged over a 30-minute sampling period (STEL).
Negative Exposure Assessments*
It’s important to note that the minimal requirements for materials containing less than 1% asbestos only apply so long as the PEL is not exceeded. That means you need to know the exposure level of your work site(s). If there’s a chance that airborne asbestos exposure could exceed the PEL or STEL, the contractor must be able to provide proof of a Negative Exposure Assessment (NEA) for his/her employees for that project.
29 CFR 1926.1101 (f)(2) outlines three options for producing a NEA:
- Objective data: Contractor provides proof that the ACMs and activities involving the asbestos-containing products cannot release airborne fibers in concentrations that would exceed the TWA (Time-Weighted Average limit) or excursion limit (1.0 fiber per cubic centimeter of air (1 f/cc) as averaged over a sampling period of thirty (30) minutes), even in the most abrasive work conditions.
- Previous air monitoring results: Use exposure monitoring results of a similar job from the past 12 months to show that employee exposure will not exceed the TWA and excursion limit given that:
- The employees have comparable training/experience;
- The workplace conditions “closely resemble” the processes, materials, work methods, work practices and environmental conditions of the project in question; and
- The air monitoring results are from a project within 12 months of the project in question
- Current air monitoring results: Contractor conducts asbestos exposure monitoring for the project in question.
I’m a facility owner. If my building contains materials with < 1% asbestos, what’s my responsibility?
As a facility owner, OSHA requires that you provide information about hazardous building materials, including asbestos-containing materials. (29 CFR 1926.1101(k) Communication of Hazards) (1) That means that before work begins, it is your responsibility to determine the presence, location and quantity of ACM (materials containing greater than one percent (>1%) asbestos) and/or Presumed Asbestos Containing Material. You can easily fulfill this requirement through an asbestos survey and/or sampling.
I’m a contractor. What’s my responsibility?
Unfortunately, facility owners are not required to share information about building materials with trace asbestos (less than 1% asbestos). That means that greater responsibility falls on contractors to ensure their employees are safe. If you’re the contractor, it’s your responsibility to identify the presence and location of any ACMs (including trace asbestos), follow the work practices/engineering controls required in OSHA’s Asbestos Construction Standard and/or provide a NEA for your project. You must also file the appropriate project notifications for your area.
If you have questions about the best way to ensure you’re in compliance, please reach out to me any time via email .
*For exact wording and requirements, please reference OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.1101 here.