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
- 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.