For a long time, people thought of asbestos as a miracle fiber. It was tough and naturally heat resistant. Manufacturers used it as insulation and even as a fire retardant. It was in ceiling tiles, floor tiles, siding, and everywhere.
Then in the 1970s, the material’s bad side began to emerge to the public. Companies had known for seven decades before that that breathing asbestos dust would cause disease, including by the 1940s that it caused cancer, but kept the dangers hidden. They had put the people who worked with the material at risk, including countless construction workers.
Construction workers still at risk
While some asbestos products have since been banned, the government has not yet issued a full ban. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of asbestos already built into the nation’s buildings. Homes, schools, offices and other buildings built through 1980 are often laced with the deadly carcinogen.
This means that construction workers can still risk asbestos exposure whenever they work in these buildings. The EPA claims that materials with asbestos are safe until they start to break down or are disturbed in any way, but they become a problem when the fibers are released. Construction workers risk breaking down these materials anytime they drill, cut or otherwise work with them.
Following the rules to stay safe
To protect workers from the dangers of asbestos, the government has created a long list of rules to limit exposure. Companies working with asbestos need to pay attention to both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The EPA has asbestos rules for all public buildings, including schools, offices and apartment buildings with four or more residences. Its rules require businesses to:
- Contact the state before renovating any building that might exceed asbestos thresholds
- Work with trained asbestos professionals to contain the work site
- Follow strict air cleaning guidelines
- Dispose of the material according to standards
Additionally, the EPA encourages businesses to track and deal with the deterioration of the asbestos in their buildings. Of course, businesses don’t always follow the rules. But if there’s an asbestos plan for the place you’re working, that’s generally a good sign.
OSHA has its own rules to protect your workplace safety. These include:
- Qualified exposure assessments
- Mandatory personal exposure testing
- Limits on airborne asbestos levels
- Taking steps to limit workers’ hours in exposed areas
- Providing protective equipment
- Strict guidelines for different types of work
The agencies’ combined rules are long and complicated, but they aim to save lives.
Don’t shortcut your health
Pay attention to your worksite. When you work on an older building, you should see the owner and your employer taking efforts to keep you safe. If they aren’t, they may be sacrificing your health and future.