OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

May 14, 1998

Mr. Mark V. Wiggins
OSHA Standards Officer
South Carolina Department of LLR-OSHA
3600 Forest Drive
P.O. Box 11329
Columbia, South Carolina 29211-1329

Dear Mr. Wiggins:

This is in response to your letter of October 23, to Ms. Dinwiddie, with the Columbia, South Carolina, Area Office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), concerning asbestos-containing joint compound.

You refer to the definition of "surfacing material" at 29 CFR 1926.1101(b) in the OSHA construction asbestos standard which reads:

"Surfacing material" means material that is sprayed, troweled-on or otherwise applied to surfaces (such as acoustical plaster on ceilings and fireproofing materials on structural members, or other materials on surfaces for acoustical, fireproofing, and other purposes).

Because the definition seems open-ended as to the purpose for applying material to a surface, it appears to you that since joint compound is applied in a manner similar to troweling it fits the definition of surfacing material. You note that the OSHA National Office has stated that joint compound is not "surfacing material", however. You request clarification of how OSHA reaches this conclusion. Moreover, you note that OSHA states in the letter dated April 28, 1997, to Mr. Gary Thibodeaux with National Service Cleaning Corporation, Orange, Texas, that joint compound is finishing material and not surfacing material. You ask what is meant by "finishing material."

OSHA reaches the conclusion that joint compound is not "surfacing material" by considering the definition of "Class II asbestos work" and analyzing the preamble to the 1994 revision of the asbestos standards.

The definition reads:

"Class II asbestos work" means activities involving the removal of ACM which is not thermal system insulation or surfacing material. This includes, but is not limited to, the removal of asbestos-containing wallboard, floor tile and sheeting, roofing and siding shingles, and construction mastics.

Note that removal of asbestos-containing wallboard is an activity involving the removal of asbestos-containing material (ACM) which is not surfacing material. In actuality, the wallboard itself seldom contains asbestos. The asbestos is usually in joint compound, spackling compound, and tape used to produce a smooth wall surface. Therefore, joint compound is by definition not surfacing material.

The preamble relates that surfacing material is material that presents "high risk." This means it is material that is easily caused to release airborne asbestos because the fibers are loosely bound. OSHA believes that the fibers in joint compound are too tightly bound for the compound to belong in the "high risk" category.

As to your question concerning "finishing material," OSHA has not defined the term with regard to its relationship to the asbestos standards because it has no special application in the standards. The term was used in the letter to which you referred to mean material that is used to fill the cracks between adjacent wallboard panels to produce a smooth wall surface.

We appreciate the opportunity to clarify this matter for you. If you have further questions, please contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036.


John B. Miles, Jr.
Directorate of Compliance Programs