As the health-related consequences of asbestos exposure have become more widely known, Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) has been regulating the amount of asbestos exposure in the workplace since the 1970s. These regulations on both the federal and state levels outline the requirements for measurement of potential exposure as well as specific work practices.
What if you find that your employer is not following these standards? Let’s explore these standards, your rights as a worker, and how to protect yourself and your coworkers.
OSHA Standards and Regulations for Asbestos Exposure
OSHA has 3 different sets of standards to protect workers from asbestos depending on the type of workplace. These standards include the general workplace as well as workers in shipyards and construction sites.
These standards protect private workers as well as state and local government workers in the 23 states with federally-approved state OSHA laws. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting state and local employees who are in states without OSHA-approved occupational safety plan, which may be exposed to asbestos. There are a few states that have OSHA programs for public employees that are not federally-approved but do enforce OSHA standards.
OSHA’s standards have established the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of asbestos in the workplace as 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
Keep in mind, though, that legal does not necessarily equate to safe. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos.
The standards also include these protections:
- Assessment of workplaces to determine how much asbestos workers might be exposed to before work begins.
- Periodic monitoring of workplaces to determine if asbestos exposure is above the PEL.
- Signage communicating areas where asbestos work is being performed to prevent contamination.
- Separate lunch and decontamination areas for workers exposed to the PEL with proper hygiene practices to avoid contamination.
- Training for workers who may be exposed at or above the PEL before work begins and yearly after that.
- Medical surveillance, which is industry-dependent. In general, medical examinations must be made available for workers exposed at or above the PEL.
- Records must be kept on asbestos exposure monitoring for at least 30 years. Additionally, medical surveillance records for workers must be saved for the duration of employment and 30 years after.
What Are My Rights as a Worker?
Are you concerned about health and safety at your job? Do you feel that your employer is not protecting you as they should? Under the federal law, you have the right to a safe workplace.
Under OSHA law, you have the right to:
- Receive training about workplace hazards and OSHA standards if you are exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials in a language that you understand
- Receive required safety gear and personal protective equipment
- Review records of workplace-related illnesses and injuries
- Review results of tests that find and measure safety hazards
- File a complaint with OSHA and request an inspection of the workplace to assess for safety hazards
- Exercise your rights without fear of retaliation. OSHA will always keep your identity confidential.
Who Can I contact?
If you have health-related concerns, need more information, need to report an emergency, order publications, file a complaint, or request a free OSHA on-site consultation, contact your local OSHA office, visit osha.gov, or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), TTY 1-877-889-5627.
Your employer is required to follow particular federally and sometimes state set standards to keep workers safe. Unfortunately, there are times when employers choose not to follow these regulations and do not protect their workers.
You have a right to receive information and training regarding the OSHA standards that apply to your workplace, proper protection from asbestos exposure, and to file a confidential complaint with OSHA.
Don’t wait for illness or injury to happen to you, take action to demand safety today.