Have I Been Exposed to Asbestos?

          In recent weeks the IAM Safety and Health Department has received numerous requests for assistance form our members on asbestos.  There are many materials that may look like Asbestos.  The EPA has a sample list of Suspect Asbestos-Containing Materials manufactured in the past.  The following information can be helpful to answer questions about asbestos and there are links at the bottom of this article to help you get more information.

          Asbestos is often off-white.  Less-common types are blue or brown.  Its appearance generally depends upon the material it was mixed with to make it workable: cement, polymers, starch, asphalt, or other binders.  If you suspect that asbestos containing materials such as deteriorated ductwork, insulated piping, sprayed acoustical walls, ceilings or tile floors for just a few examples, it is always best to assume that it is or contains asbestos and should be treated as though it is without being tested.  In the absence of a sample being tested or a survey by the employer or if samples cannot safely be performed, all surfacing materials and thermal system insulation in buildings constructed before 1980 should be presumed to contain asbestos.

          If your employer claims that the material is not asbestos and you want to have an independent test performed, you should request your local/district safety representative or leadership address the issue.  Asbestos can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope.  A safe asbestos sampling procedure to obtain the sample should be followed and sent to an approved asbestos testing lab or the EPA.

The following are answers to some questions you may have:

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals used in certain products, such as building materials and vehicle brakes, to resist heat and corrosion. Asbestos includes chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite asbestos, anthophyllite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and any of these materials that have been chemically treated and/or altered.

Are you being exposed to asbestos?

General industry employees may be exposed to asbestos during the manufacture of asbestos-containing products or when performing brake and clutch repairs.  

In the construction industry, exposure occurs when workers disturb asbestos-containing materials during the renovation or demolition of buildings. 

Employees in the maritime environment also may be exposed when renovating or demolishing ships constructed with asbestos-containing materials.  

In addition, custodial workers may be exposed through contact with deteriorating asbestos-containing materials in buildings.

Are employers required to conduct exposure monitoring?

In construction and shipyard work, unless you are able to demonstrate that employee exposures will be below the PELs (a “negative exposure assessment”), you are generally required to conduct daily monitoring for workers in Class I and II regulated areas.  For workers in other operations where exposures are expected to exceed one of the PELs, you must conduct periodic monitoring.  

In general industry, you must perform initial monitoring for workers who may be exposed above a PEL or above the excursion limit.  You must conduct subsequent monitoring at reasonable intervals, and in no case at intervals greater than 6 months for employees exposed above a PEL.

What are the permissible exposure limits for asbestos?

Employee exposure to asbestos must not exceed 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter (f/cc) of air, averaged over an 8-hour work shift.  Short-term exposure must also be limited to not more than 1 f/cc, averaged over 30 minutes.  Rotation of employees to achieve compliance with either permissible exposure limit (PEL) is prohibited.

Are there any OSHA standards that cover workers exposed to asbestos?

Yes.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has the following three standards to protect workers from exposure to asbestos in the workplace:

■ 29 CFR 1926.1101 covers construction work, including alteration, repair, renovation, and demolition of structures containing asbestos.

■ 29 CFR 1915.1001 covers asbestos exposure during work in shipyards.

■ 29 CFR 1910.1001 applies to asbestos exposure in general industry, such as exposure during brake and clutch repair, custodial work, and manufacture of asbestos-containing products.

The standards for the construction and shipyard industries classify the hazards of asbestos work activities and prescribe particular requirements for each classification:

Class I is the most potentially hazardous class of asbestos jobs and involves the removal of thermal system insulation and sprayed-on or troweled-on surfacing asbestos-containing materials or presumed asbestos-containing materials.

Class II includes the removal of other types of asbestos-containing materials that are not thermal system insulation, such as resilient flooring and roofing materials containing asbestos.

Class III focuses on repair and maintenance operations where asbestos-containing or presumed asbestos-containing materials are disturbed.

Class IV pertains to custodial activities where employees clean up asbestos-containing waste and debris.

          There are equivalent regulations in states with OSHA-approved state plans.  Below we have provided links to OSHA and other sites that can answer many questions about Asbestos or possible exposures and what to do.

          If you have any questions or need any assistance in interpretation or explanation of the resource links below or need assistance with a safety issue contact you Local/District Lodge Safety Representative.  The IAM Safety and Health Department can also help by calling (301) 967-4704 Monday through Friday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm Eastern Time. 

OSHA Asbestos Fact Sheet, In Spanish
Asbestos Advisor (Software Download)
Asbestos Safety and Health Topics
Asbestos Standards – (Training Materials)
How To Protect Yourself From Asbestos Hazards Fact Sheet During Flood Cleanup
Hurricane Asbestos Hazards Fact Sheet