Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber. It was used in numerous building materials and vehicle products for its strength and ability to resist heat and corrosion before its dangerous health effects were discovered. Individual asbestos fibers cannot be seen by the naked eye, which puts workers at an increased risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations to protect workers from the hazards of asbestos.
What is the hazard?
Asbestos fibers are released into the air during activities that disturb asbestos-containing materials.
The asbestos fibers can then be inhaled without knowing and trapped in the lungs. If swallowed, they can become embedded into the digestive tract as well.
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and can cause chronic lung disease as well as lung and other cancers. Symptoms and/or cancer may take many years to develop following exposure.
Where is the hazard?
The hazard may occur during manufacturing of asbestos-containing products; performing brake or clutch repairs; renovating or demolishing buildings or ships; or cleanup from those activities; contact with deteriorating asbestos-containing materials and during cleanup after natural disasters*.
Some materials are presumed to contain asbestos if installed before 1981. Examples of these materials, as well as other presumed asbestos-containing materials are:
- Thermal system insulation
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Vinyl floor tiles*
- Plaster, cement, putties and caulk
- Ceiling tiles and spray-on coatings
- Industrial pipe wrapping
- Heat-resistant textiles
- Automobile brake linings and clutch pads
OSHA has three standards to protect workers from the hazards of asbestos depending on the type of workplace. For complete information on all of the requirements, see the standard specific to your type of workplace:
General Industry: 29 CFR 1910.1001 covers work in general industry, such as exposure during brake and clutch repair, maintenance work, and manufacture of asbestos-containing products.
Shipyards: 29 CFR 1915.1001 covers construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos during work in shipyards.
Construction: 29 CFR 1926.1101 covers construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, or renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos.
What protections exist in the Standards?
- Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for asbestos is 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA), with an excursion limit (EL) of 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period. The employer must ensure that no one is exposed above these limits.
- Assessment of workplaces covered by the standards must be completed to determine if asbestos is present and if the work will generate airborne fibers by a specific method under each standard.
- Monitoring necessary 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. Frequency depends on work classification and exposure. The construction and shipyard standards require assessment and monitoring by a competent person.
- If the exposure has the potential to be above the PEL or EL, employers must use proper engineering controls and work practices to the extent feasible to keep it at or below the PEL and EL. Where feasible engineering controls and work practices do not ensure worker protection at the exposure limits, employers must reduce the exposures to the lowest level achievable and then supplement with proper respiratory protection to meet the PEL. The construction and shipyard standards contain specific control methods depending on work classification, and the general industry standard has specific controls for brake and clutch repair work.
- Proper hazard communication and demarcation with warning signs containing specified language in areas that have exposures above the PEL or EL is necessary. No smoking, eating, or drinking should occur in these areas and proper PPE must be provided and used to prevent exposure.
- Separate decontamination and lunch areas with proper hygiene practices must be provided to workers exposed above the PEL to avoid contamination.
- Training requirements depend on the workplace exposure and classification. Training must be provided to all workers exposed at or above the PEL before work begins and yearly thereafter. All training must be conducted in a manner and language in which the worker is able to understand. Workers who perform housekeeping operations in buildings with presumed asbestoscontaining materials but not at the PEL must also be provided asbestos awareness training.
- Medical surveillance requirements are different depending on the industry. Medical surveillance must be provided for workers who engage in certain classifications of work, or experience exposures at or above the PEL in construction and shipyards. In general industry, medical examinations must be provided for workers who experience exposure at or above the PEL.
- Records must be kept on exposure monitoring for asbestos for at least 30 years, and worker medical surveillance records retained for the duration of employment plus 30 years. Training records must be kept for at least 1 year beyond the last date of employment.
For more information on this and other healthrelated issues impacting workers, to report an emergency, fatality or catastrophe, to order publications, to file a confidential complaint, or to request OSHA’s free on-site consultation service, contact your nearest OSHA office, visit www.osha.gov, or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA(6742), TTY 1-877-889-5627.
Workers have the right to:
- Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
- Receive information and training (in a language and vocabulary the worker understands) about workplace hazards, methods to prevent them, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Get copies of test results that find and measure hazards.
- File a complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA’s rules.
- OSHA will keep all identities confidential.
- Exercise their rights under the law without retaliation or discrimination.
For more information, see OSHA’s workers page.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies or standards. It does not impose any new compliance requirements. For a comprehensive list of compliance requirements of OSHA standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals upon request. The voice phone is (202) 693-1999; teletypewriter (TTY) number: (877) 889-5627.
For assistance, contact us. We can help. It's confidential:
U.S. Department of Labor
www.osha.gov (800) 321-OSHA (6742)
DEP FS-3507 01/2014
* Accessibility Assistance: Contact OSHA's Office of Communications at 202-693-1999 for assistance accessing PDF materials.