What Employers Need to Know about Keeping Workers Safe from Asbestos

Flooring tiles may contain asbestos, which is a mineral fiber that was used in the past in several different building materials. It was used before people were aware of the dangerous effects it had on human health. Workers who are responsible for buffing or waxing floors with asbestos are in danger of negative health effects. If floor tiles were put in prior to 1980, workers should assume that they have asbestos. However, some workplaces may have had the flooring inspected to confirm that it is free of asbestos. If a floor cannot be confirmed as being free of asbestos, it is essential to take the proper precautions when cleaning or polishing it.

There are several regulations developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect people in workplaces from asbestos. The standard equipment used to clean asbestos flooring requires a pad that is abrasive. Since it runs at high speeds, it chips off tiny particles of asbestos into the air. When these fibers are airborne, they are easy for workers to inhale. The carcinogenic fibers become trapped in the lungs, and they can lead to lung cancer or other forms of lung disease.

Identifying a hazard in the workplace may not always be easy. Airborne fibers from asbestos flooring are small enough that workers will not be able to see them. As a rule, the simplest way to stay safe is to assume that any flooring put in prior to 1980 is dangerous. Even if it is not, the precautions are easy enough to follow that they are not burdensome. To be considered dangerous, a piece of flooring only needs to contain more than one percent asbestos.

Workers who are responsible for taking care of asbestos flooring should become familiar with the OSHA standards regarding this material. It is Part 1910.1001 of the 29 Code of Federal Regulations. For the shipyard and construction industries, there are separate asbestos standards due to varying working conditions. Employers are required to provide proper training that is understandable to all workers. They must cover the location of the asbestos, the health effects of it, how to recognize damaged asbestos-containing materials and how to respond to fiber releases. They should also provide workers with these valuable tips for flooring care:

– Never sand asbestos flooring.

– Use pads with low abrasion for buffing.

– Use wet cleaning methods.

– Keep buffer speeds below 300 rpm.

– If finish is sufficient, dry buffing or brushing is acceptable.

When properly implemented, these methods should be sufficient enough care precautions that personal protective equipment is not needed. Employers are required to keep records of workers’ training and notification. If any workers are exposed to asbestos or dangerous conditions, records should be kept and the workers should be monitored.

The DTSEM FS-3693 is one of the informational fact sheets used for highlighting OSHA programs, standards and policies. There are no new compliance regulations. To find the list of regulations and standards, look at Title 29 in the Code of Federal Regulations. Employers should also let workers know their rights in this matter. They have the right to do the following:

– Experience working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.

– Exercise their law-given rights without fear of discrimination or retaliation.

– Review their own records of illnesses or injuries at work.

– Receive training and information in a language they understand.

– Be trained about workplace hazards and prevention methods.

– File confidential complaints to OSHA for workplace inspections if necessary.

– Receive copies of test results measuring and identifying hazards.

Employers who are starting new businesses or buying older buildings with asbestos flooring should be aware of these regulations and training requirements for workers. For more information about insurance to cover possible workplace incidents, contact ACBI. 

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