How the new OSHA asbestos regulation affects installers

Sept. 1, 1995
[Editor?s note: This is a synopsis of the OSHA regulation and is not intended as a substitute for a thorough reading of the rules published in the Federal Register as 29 CFR, Parts 1910, 1915 and 1926.]

Barbara E. Thompson

[Editor?s note: This is a synopsis of the OSHA regulation and is not intended as a substitute for a thorough reading of the rules published in the Federal Register as 29 CFR, Parts 1910, 1915 and 1926.]

The new Occupational Safety and Health Administration asbestos regulation took effect on October 11, 1994, and the provisions for compliance methods, notification and training were effective July 10, 1995. The regulation affects installers, who, for safety reasons, must be able to recognize asbestos-containing material, report it to the project manager and the building owner or manager, and immediately stop all work on the project.

The OSHA regulation does not require buildings to be inspected for asbestos-containing material; however, it assumes that asbestos is present in buildings constructed before 1981. The new rules focus on increased worker protection and require building owners and managers to take action if asbestos is present in their buildings.

In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report, "EPA study of asbestos-containing materials in public buildings: A report to Congress," which reported that friable (easily crumbled) asbestos-containing material can be found in an estimated 700,000 public and commercial buildings. The report also stated that approximately 500,000 of those buildings are believed to contain at least some damaged asbestos. Some areas of significantly damaged asbestos-containing material can be found in more than half of them.

"A number of the federal buildings are full of asbestos-containing material," says Ed Phillips, president of Tel-Comm Contracting Inc. (Manchester, MA). "The most important thing I do is train my installers to recognize asbestos and not to disturb it, then pack up and come back to the office. We immediately get in touch with the building owner or manager."

Notification and labeling

If asbestos is assumed (or demonstrated) to be present, the building owner must identify the location, amount and type of asbestos-containing material at any site where work that could disturb the material is to take place. Outside contractors who will be working in or near those areas must be notified about the presence of asbestos-containing material.

"If building owners know there`s asbestos in there," says Phillips, "they have a responsibility to tell you because you will have to install cable in alternate ways. If you cannot go into the ceilings with the cable, and there`s no floor duct, you may have to plan a wall perimeter system."

To protect workers, OSHA has reduced the permissible exposure limit to asbestos from 0.2 to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter. If any work disturbs thermal insulation or surfacing material, the use of respirators is required. In addition, work areas in which asbestos-containing materials are being handled should be posted with caution signs.

From a contractor`s point of view, Garth Tolman, director of engineering at Trellis Communications Corp. (Manchester, NH) says, "You have an obligation to make sure that any employee who is going to work in an area where there is asbestos-containing material is able to identify that material. The most fundamental and basic thing is to know there is asbestos there and to stop."


According to the OSHA regulation, a minimum of 16 hours of asbestos training is required for all workers engaged in Class 3 activities--repair and maintenance involving the intentional disturbance of asbestos-containing material. In addition, building owners must ensure that any outside contractors performing work in the building have provided their employees with the requisite training.

To ensure that employees know what asbestos looks like, Trellis installers go through a 16-hour asbestos-awareness program. Similarly, at Cabling Systems of North Haven Inc., CT, "We train our installers on what asbestos-containing material looks like," says Terry Buono, president. "And we have them stop the job if they find it and call the people in charge of the building."

Identification is key because asbestos comes in different forms. "It comes in ceiling tiles, insulation, in pipe covering, and sometimes even in old countertops," says Buono. And Phillips says, "It`s difficult to recognize in vinyl asbestos tile because it doesn`t look any different from regular tile. The tile doesn`t create any dust when you`re drilling it, but OSHA regulations state that you have to seal the area and put installers in suits and respirators."

Most contractors do not get involved with asbestos encapsulation or removal. The building owner usually will get a separate bid for asbestos abatement, and the work will be done before the cable installation starts. The advice for installers seems to be: Learn to identify asbestos-containing material, don`t touch it, don`t remove it, leave things as they are, and inform your management and the building owner.


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