How to Safely Occupy a Commercial Building with Asbestos Present

How to Safely Occupy a Commercial Building with Asbestos Present

In the 1970’s several types of asbestos materials used in construction were banned. Then, in 1989 the EPA issued a final rule further banning the use of asbestos, but due to extensive industry lobbying efforts the full ban was overturned in court and only a few specific types of asbestos products were banned as well as any new uses of asbestos. The EPA also issued a final rule in 1990 so that discontinued asbestos products could only be used with specific EPA approval. Many people do not realize that you can still purchase products today in the U.S. with asbestos present.

Should you be worried about asbestos in your workplace?

Dangers Posed by Asbestos in the Workplace

While undisturbed, asbestos material that is in good condition does not pose a serious threat. It only becomes a problem when it is damaged, allowing a release of microscopic fibers into the air, which may cause a variety of respiratory diseases when inhaled.

It is estimated that there may be as many 3.5 million buildings in the U.S. with asbestos present. If you work in a commercial building with asbestos present, you are not in any immediate danger just by being there – under ideal circumstances. The reality is that asbestos fibers are highly likely to be present whenever you enter an old commercial building; you just cannot see them. Commonly, any sort of renovation to a building will stir up and damage asbestos unless it is handled properly by certified/licensed professionals. Even less intensive work like routine HVAC cleaning, floor buffing, and other maintenance activities could release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has warned that the best way to stay safe from asbestos is to take necessary steps to minimize exposure. Since avoiding all buildings with asbestos present is not practical or even possible, what can you do instead?

Smart Ways to Stay in a Building with Asbestos

As a business owner or facility manager, you can follow a few steps to keep yourself, your workers, and other occupants safe from asbestos dangers while working in an older commercial structure. Some of these steps can be followed by workers employed in such a building, but it is the employer or company that is liable to provide reasonable protection from asbestos exposure.

As a business or commercial property owner, you should:

  1. Know the law: OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other government agencies all have rules and regulations regarding management of asbestos in buildings. Some of these rules vary, and in some cases may even seem somewhat contradictory. In some locations, local and state requirements may be stricter than the federal rules.
  2. Get your building tested: The first step is a survey to identify the different types and locations of asbestos present, if any, and the condition of the materials. Different asbestos-containing material (ACM) present different amounts of risk. For example, common non-friable ACM floor tiles present much less risk than friable spray-on insulation or friable pipe insulation that is easily accessible to occupants. If friable ACM is present, baseline ambient air testing may also be prudent and an Operations and Maintenance (O&M) program should be prepared to further outline steps required. Any such testing and inspections must be completed by qualified, licensed professionals independent of any abatement or remediation contractors.
  3. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and training: You should discuss asbestos safety with all your affected employees, provide training courses regarding asbestos exposure, and in some cases, you may need to make PPE available to workers. Depending on the level of exposure, as determined by personal exposure monitoring, appropriate respiratory protection may also be required. This typically would apply to your janitorial and maintenance staff or other personnel completing construction or asbestos abatement activity. The average office worker and building occupant would not require PPE or respirators.
  4. Plan for asbestos abatement: Lastly, you must start thinking about how to abate asbestos in your commercial building. Even if it is deemed safe to work inside the structure now, it is only a matter of time until some renovations or damage stir up dangerous asbestos fibers into the air. Regarding regulations, there is no requirement to remove asbestos from a building unless the building is to be renovated, or demolished; or if the asbestos is damaged and presents a more immediate risk of exposure.

Once it is time to move ahead with abatement activity, you should contact a professional industrial hygiene firm to develop asbestos abatement specifications that can be used to solicit apples-to-apples bids from qualified abatement contractors.

What is Asbestos Abatement for Commercial Buildings?

The four asbestos abatement techniques most used are:

  • Encapsulation: Special materials applied over the asbestos as a sealant to help prevent the release of fibers.
  • Repair: Typically, this refers to patching or other repair of damaged asbestos, such as installing protective wrap or covering over asbestos insulation materials to help prevent further damage and release of fibers. Encapsulation is also a form of repair in some cases.
  • Enclosure: Enclosure is frequently used during renovations where, for example, asbestos pipe insulation is completely sealed behind new solid wall partitions or mechanical trenches.
  • Removal: In some situations, the only way to confidently prevent asbestos exposure is to have a licensed abatement contractor remove the asbestos entirely. This is frequently the case during demolition activity or where the asbestos is significantly damaged.

A licensed abatement design professional should be consulted to help decide the best abatement options for your building or renovation project.

Asbestos Assessments for Companies & Corporations

At RPF Environmental, Inc., we offer a variety of services you will need to ensure your commercial building is safe to occupy. Our accredited laboratory can test for asbestos levels in waste materials, insulation, air and water samples, and much more. We can give you a complete survey of your commercial structure’s asbestos risk. We can also prepare O&M programs and abatement specifications and help connect you with local asbestos abatement contractors once we identify the level of asbestos in your property.

Call RPF Environmental, Inc. at (888) 293-0619 today for more information. Our certified asbestos inspection professionals offer their services throughout New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.

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