Last year was a particularly destructive hurricane season. Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Jose and Maria spread destruction through the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean. The process of recovering from the damage is ongoing, and probably will be for a long time. Cleanup workers have already started clearing damaged structures and rebuilding entire neighborhoods.
Cleanup personnel face unique hazards when it comes to working with the damage from hurricanes. One of the biggest risks is exposure to asbestos. When it comes to cleaning up in the wake of a hurricane, you should be aware of the potential exposure to asbestos as well as your employer’s responsibility to protect you.
The risks of hurricane cleanup
Asbestos is a mineral that was once commonly used in many types of building material due to its strength, insulation and flame resistance. Though its use is now prohibited, it can still sometimes be found in the pipes, flooring, roof, drywall and ceilings of older buildings. This can be particularly hazardous to cleanup workers because when a structure containing asbestos is destroyed, myriad asbestos fibers are released into the air. Exposure to this mineral’s fibers can lead to asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
OSHA’s regulations on asbestos exposure
Employers are required to follow strict safety standards imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. OSHA’s regulations were designed specifically with cleanup workers in mind. If you are at risk of asbestos exposure, these are the standards that your employer should follow:
- For an average eight-hour workday, OSHA permits an exposure limit of only 0.1fiber of asbestos per cubic centimeter of air.
- A period of 30 minutes has an excursion limit of 1.0 fibers per cubic centimeter of air.
- Employers must conduct an initial exposure assessment to determine the exposures expected during an operation. In some instances, they must also periodically monitor exposure.
- When possible, engineering controls must be used to meet the permissible exposure limit. If not feasible, then engineering controls should be used to reduce exposure. Exposure should then be supplemented by adequate respiratory protection.
- Employers should regulate access to areas where there may be particularly high levels of asbestos.
- Eating, drinking or smoking should be prohibited in asbestos-contaminated areas.
- There should be visible warning signs posted communicating the presence of hazardous materials.
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