Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring mineral fibers that are resistant to heat and corrosion. Asbestos has been used in products such as insulation for pipes (steam lines for example), floor tiles, building materials, as well as in vehicle brakes and clutches. Asbestos includes the mineral fibers chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, actinolite and any of these materials that have been chemically treated or altered.
Asbestos is commonly found in old buildings such as those built in the 1940s and 1950s, and can be found in many items such as:
- HVAC Duct Insulation
- Boiler insulation
- Pipe insulation
- Cooling towers
- Floor tile/ceiling tile
- Electrical wiring insulation
- Wall board or spackling compounds
Inhaling airborne asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis (scarring of the lungs resulting in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and to death); mesothelioma (cancer affecting the membranes lining of the lungs and abdomen); lung cancer; and cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum.
Maintenance workers and engineers can be unknowingly exposed to asbestos from many possible areas and sources. Engineers can be exposed while working in furnace rooms where boilers are insulated with asbestos, or when making repairs to old piping or doing minor renovations. Significant asbestos exposures can occur when insulation in old buildings is removed during renovations. Asbestos exposure is often associated with areas or items that might not be expected to contain asbestos, including building materials such as floor and ceiling tiles. Maintenance personnel may be unaware and untrained to handle these hazards.
Requirements under OSHA's Asbestos Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1001
- Maintaining exposures at or below Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). The employer must ensure that no worker is exposed above the standard’s Permissible Exposure Limits: 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA); and an excursion limit of 1.0 fiber per cubic centimeter as averaged over a 30-minute sampling period.
- Complying with all requirements (both in the Asbestos standard and other applicable OSHA standards, as well as the requirements of other Agencies, e.g., the U.S. EPA) for exposure monitoring, regulated areas, engineering controls and work practices (including following the hierarchy of controls), respiratory protection, protective work clothing and equipment, hygiene facilities and practices, hazard communication (including warning signs and labels), employee information and training, housekeeping, medical surveillance, recordkeeping, and observation of monitoring by employees or their representatives.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other Federal Agencies implement additional asbestos-related laws and regulations that may apply to hospitals.
- Asbestos. OSHA Fact Sheet.
- Asbestos. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
- Asbestos (Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Actinolite, and Anthophyllite). World Health Organization (WHO), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 100C, 2012.
- Self-Inspection Checklist: Asbestos. OSHA. Use this checklist to help determine compliance to the Asbestos Standard.
- Pira et. al. (2009). Mortality from cancer and other causes in the Balangero cohort of chrysotile asbestos miners. Occup Environ Med, 66(12): 805-809.
- Wang X, Lin S, et. al (2013). Cause-specific mortality in a Chinese chrysotile textile worker cohort. Cancer Sci, 104(2): 245-249.
- Skammeritz, E. et al. (2011). Asbestos Exposure and Survival in Malignant Mesothelioma: A Description of 122 Consecutive Cases at an Occupational Clinic. The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (IJOEM), 2(4): 224-236.