- Standard Number:
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.
July 30, 2001
Ms. Kerry L. Brewer
Environmental Health Services
P.O. Box 520595
Big Lake, AK 99652
Dear Ms. Brewer:
Thank you for your March 19 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Directorate of Compliance Programs. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated within your original correspondence. You asked that OSHA answer two questions based on your scenario.
Scenario: An abatement contractor is removing TSI pipe lag and Mag wrap from a boiler inside a negative pressure enclosure. The air changes are ten times per hour. The ventilation is designed to move contaminated air away from the breathing zone. Wet methods, HEPA vacuuming and prompt cleanup are being used. The employees are trained and wearing PAPRs. Air monitoring results show an 8-hour TWA of 0.4 f/cc.
Question 1: Have the employees been overexposed?
Reply: Technically, yes. It is OSHA's policy that an employee's exposure is determined without regard to any personal protective equipment, including respirators. Therefore, if the airborne asbestos concentrations exceed the PEL, employee exposures are likewise above the PEL, and OSHA would consider the employees to be overexposed to asbestos.
Question 2: Is this a citable violation of the permissible exposure limit (PEL)?
Reply: We spoke with you and Mr. Steven Brewer to obtain further information about the aforementioned scenario. You told us about the type of enclosure, air changes, control methods, respiratory protection worn, and exposure results. We recognize that you believe you are describing a situation where the employer is in full compliance with all components of the standard pertaining to the control of airborne asbestos levels, but the employees' 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) exposures still exceed the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
Please be aware that 29 CFR 1926.1101(g)(2)(iv), which requires the use of other feasible work practices and engineering controls "that the Assistant Secretary can show to be feasible" would apply to this situation since employee exposures exceed the 8-hour TWA PEL. In other words, after investigating this situation, an OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) may be aware of additional feasible controls which have not been, but could have been, implemented. If that were the case, those workplace controls would have to be implemented. Therefore, without the benefit of a CSHO's personal assessment of the situation, the employer in your scenario may not be in full compliance with all the requirements for controlling airborne asbestos levels. Assuming, however, that the employer has implemented all engineering and work practice controls, and has met all other requirements of the standard, OSHA's policy is to not issue a citation for exceeding the PEL.
As you may know, when an overexposure occurs, employers must meet all provisions of the asbestos standard. Based on your scenario (and, again, assuming no other feasible engineering controls or respiratory protection could be applied), no citation for violation of the PEL would be issued. OSHA would only cite for exposures above the PEL if additional engineering and work practice controls could have been implemented, and/or if there were an inadequate respiratory protection program. If other provisions of the asbestos standard are not being met (for example, if employees are not wearing the proper protective clothing or housekeeping is poor), OSHA references the PEL in the variable language of the OSHA citation, but does not cite the PEL itself.
As you may know, the State of Alaska administers its own occupational safety and health program under a plan approved and closely monitored by Federal OSHA. The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act requires states to promulgate standards that are, "at least as effective" as the Federal regulations, although they may be more stringent. State standards interpretations must be consistent with or at least as effective as OSHA's. Alaska's asbestos standards are identical to OSHA's but their interpretations and enforcement policies may be different. In order to obtain Alaska's policy on this issue, you may direct your inquiry to:
Ed Flanagan, Commissioner
Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development
P.O. Box 21149
1111 W. 8th Street, Room 306
Juneau, Alaska 99802‑1149
Telephone: (907) 465-8209 Ex.2700
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statutes, 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. 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 http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at 202-693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs