• Information Date
  • Presented To
    The Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions United States Senate
  • Speaker(s)
    Layne, Davis R.
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


July 31, 2001

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:

I appreciate this opportunity to testify today on how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protects workers from the dangers of asbestos exposure. Asbestos can cause a variety of serious health effects including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos-related diseases have a variable latency period, often extending from 10 to 40 years from initial exposure to onset of illness.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act) gives the Secretary of Labor authority over all working conditions of employees engaged in business affecting commerce, except those conditions with respect to which other Federal agencies exercise statutory authority to prescribe or enforce regulations affecting occupational safety or health. The OSH Act also provides that States may operate their own occupational safety and health programs under a plan approved by the Secretary. A 1979 Memorandum of Understanding between the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and OSHA delineates the division of jurisdiction between the two agencies.

Since OSHA's inception in 1971, the Agency has used its authority for standard-setting, enforcement, and compliance assistance to protect workers from the threat of asbestos. In fact, there has been more rulemaking activity involving asbestos than any other hazard regulated by OSHA. Between 1971 and 1994, OSHA issued two emergency temporary standards, three major notices of proposed rulemaking, three final rules, and 31 Federal Register notices related to asbestos.

Indeed, the final asbestos rule issued in June 1972 was the Agency's first comprehensive standard. This regulation reduced the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to an eight-hour, time-weighted average of two fibers per cubic centimeter of air, with a maximum ceiling of 10 fibers at any one time. The standard became fully effective in July 1976. The asbestos standard served as a model for subsequent OSHA health regulations because it not only set a PEL but included requirements for protective measures such as engineering controls, personal protective equipment, air or exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, work practices, labels, waste disposal, and recordkeeping.

In June of 1986, due to new scientific evidence regarding the carcinogenicity of asbestos, the PEL was lowered to an eight-hour, time-weighted average of 0.2 fibers per cubic centimeter of air. Separate standards were issued for general industry and construction, with the same level of protection. The rules provided for engineering controls, work practices, personal protective equipment, decontamination, communication of hazards to workers, regulated areas, housekeeping procedures, recordkeeping and employee training.

In August 1994, to provide even better worker protection, OSHA published two final asbestos standards: one for general industry and one for construction. It also added shipyards as a covered industry. The PEL was reduced to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter. Work practices and engineering controls required under the 1994 standard should, however, further reduce the risk to workers. All employers are required to communicate information about asbestos hazards to all potentially affected employees at a worksite. In addition, employers must provide training and education on asbestos exposure.

To prevent spreading asbestos outside the workplace, OSHA's standards require the employer to provide the employees protective clothing and ensure that the employees remove the contaminated clothing before leaving the workplace. To enhance the protection, employers must provide showers and separate clean change rooms for dressing into clean clothing.

The standard also addresses exposures during automobile brake and clutch work and roofing work. A mandatory appendix specifies the engineering controls and work practices to be followed during this work activity. It requires that engineering controls and good work practices be implemented at all times during brake servicing. In addition, employers must provide training on asbestos hazards to all brake and clutch repair workers.

In 1992, OSHA reviewed available relevant evidence concerning the health effects of nonasbestiform tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite, and examined the feasibility of various regulatory options. These three minerals are regulated in 29 CFR 1910.1000 by a Permissible Exposure Limit of five milligrams per cubic meter of respirable dust. OSHA determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that exposed workers would be at a significant risk from those substances if they were not regulated in the asbestos standard.

OSHA enforces the current asbestos standard through its inspection program. Asbestos is examined during routine, random or targeted inspections, though they are primarily conducted in response to complaints from employees, or as a result of referrals from Federal or State agencies. Regardless of the reason for the complaint or referral, OSHA compliance officers search for evidence of real or potential asbestos exposure. Since October 1995, OSHA has cited employers for violations of its asbestos standards 15,691 times. There were almost 3,000 inspections conducted by Federal or State OSHA programs in which violations of the standard were cited, including violations found in residential and commercial construction, auto repair facilities such as brake shops, and hotels. As recently as June 21, OSHA inspected a major lawn products company for the presence of asbestos. Samples of vermiculite and vermiculite ore were found to be free of asbestos in this instance; OSHA compliance officers, nevertheless, remain alert to the threat of asbestos exposure.

In addition to enforcement, OSHA provides compliance assistance to employers and employees to help them understand the dangers of asbestos, and what can be done to minimize the threat. OSHA's Web page connects computer users to concise and easy-to-read publications on asbestos, which are available to the public free of charge. Pamphlets explain the requirements of the standard for both general industry and construction. Included in each is a list of sources of assistance. OSHA's Web page also includes reports, links to other Web sites, slides, and information about taking samples and controlling exposure to asbestos.

OSHA offers an intensive course covering the recognition and control of asbestos at its Training Institute in Illinois. OSHA recently held a training session for the Department of Labor's Region V employees, to maintain the strength of the Agency's capabilities to address asbestos hazards, and plans to expand this training to other regions.

OSHA has also developed software that can be downloaded from its Web site to provide interactive expert advice for building owners, managers and lessees, as well as for contractors of building renovation, maintenance, and housekeeping services. Once installed on a computer, the software asks questions about a building site. It then asks follow-up questions based on answers, and produces a report on responsibilities under the asbestos rules.

OSHA's on-site consultation program, which is free and available to employers in all 50 states, provides expert assistance on asbestos. Consultants identify asbestos in the workplace and explain methods for reducing exposure. Over the last five years, state consultants took 859 asbestos samples from 162 small businesses for laboratory analysis. These employers, who formerly did not realize that there was asbestos in their workplaces, were able to protect their workforce after these consultation visits.

OSHA works closely with other agencies to ensure that jurisdictions are clearly defined. OSHA also actively coordinates with other Federal agencies on asbestos and asbestos-related issues. The OMNE Committee, composed of representatives from OSHA, MSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meets monthly to exchange information about mutual areas of concern. In addition, the various Federal agencies with jurisdiction over the regulation or research of asbestos, including OSHA, MSHA, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, EPA, NIOSH and others, frequently communicate to share information about proposed and on-going research activities and other matters related to asbestos.

OSHA also has requested technical assistance from NIOSH to determine potential asbestos exposure from working with materials that contain vermiculite. In response to this request, NIOSH has conducted investigations in horticultural facilities to determine potential exposure to employees from asbestos-contaminated vermiculite used with potting soil in lawn and garden products. In addition, NIOSH is in the process of investigating exposures at vermiculite exfoliation plants. A report from NIOSH is expected by the end of this year. OSHA is also in the process of reviewing a study that was performed by EPA to determine the extent of homeowner exposure to asbestos from vermiculite used as insulation in housing, such as Zonolite. OSHA also participated with EPA in the Asbestos Health Effects Conference, held in San Francisco in May of this year. This was an international meeting to improve the scientific foundation for assessing the health risks related to asbestos. OSHA will continue to participate in this and other scientific fora to aid in determining the adequacy of the current OSHA rule.

As the above activities indicate, OSHA has continuous and multifaceted programs in place to address the health hazards to workers created by asbestos, both in production and as a contaminant. These programs apply to all workplace settings covered by the OSH Act, and are intended to protect all workers, including those who process and work with materials potentially contaminated with asbestos, such as Zonolite insulation and lawn or garden products. OSHA coordinates many of these activities with other agencies.

OSHA believes its current statutory authorities are sufficient to carry out its responsibilities. Given its broad mission to protect workers from all types of occupational hazards, over the years the Agency has devoted a significant portion of its resources to the health effects caused by asbestos exposure, and will continue to do so.

This concludes OSHA's formal remarks. I will be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have.