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January 03, 2005
Asbestos Training Covers a Broad Range of Employees

Asbestos training should match employees' jobs. For companies in general industry, OSHA's detailed training requirements related to asbestos exposure (29 CFR 1910.1001(j)(7)) were designed primarily for those that use asbestos in the manufacturing process.

Regardless of the source of the exposure, all workers who may be exposed to airborne asbestos at or above the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) require extensive training in how to protect themselves through engineering controls, respirators and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical surveillance.

But there is an entirely different category of workers--those in custodial or housekeeping-type jobs--who also must receive "asbestos awareness" training even if there is no immediate threat of asbestos exposure. (This requirement, of course, applies only to workers in buildings in which asbestos is believed to be present.) A strong case can be made that any employees who might encounter asbestos-containing material (ACM) in the course of their jobs should receive asbestos awareness training.

"Awareness" means understanding the hazards. Perhaps the first point to make about asbestos is that exposure above the PEL can be very dangerous, potentially causing serious diseases, including cancer. The second point, however, is that while there are many items that might contain asbestos--roof shingles, floor tiles, various insulating materials, etc.--these should not automatically be considered hazardous. Emphasize that the main hazard of asbestos comes from inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers, which are likely to be produced only if asbestos or ACM is damaged, disturbed, or otherwise no longer intact. Minimum OSHA requirements for asbestos awareness training include:

  • Health effects of asbestos exposure
  • Locations of ACM in the building or facility
  • How to recognize if ACM is damaged or has deteriorated
  • Housekeeping procedures related to asbestos
  • Proper response in the event of a release of asbestos fibers

Go beyond the minimum requirements. Some of OSHA's training requirements for workers exposed at or above the PEL can also apply to general awareness training. These include:

Why It Matters...
  • Serious diseases related to asbestos exposure include lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, a cancer involving the lining of bodily organs.
  • Symptoms of asbestos exposure usually do not appear until 20 or 30 years after exposure.
  • Buildings constructed before 1980 are generally presumed to contain asbestos or asbestos-containing material (ACM).
  • The relationship between smoking and asbestos exposure in producing lung cancer
  • Specific work processes and engineering controls intended to control asbestos exposure
  • The meaning of warning signs and labels related to asbestos

Finally, remember that OSHA's Asbestos Standard requires that training (including awareness training) must be conducted at least annually and that copies of the standard itself, as well as asbestos safety training materials, must be made available to employees upon request.

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