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While you likely know about the hazards of asbestos exposure, you can prevent them by learning to deal with this substance if you encounter it at work. Even if you do not work in the construction business, you could still have exposure to this substance. Older buildings with this material could cause problems if the fibers break and release into the air.
If you work in an aging structure, especially a school where you must also protect children with delicate lungs, you must understand what this substance is and how you can prevent illnesses from exposure to it.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos starts in mines as magnesium silicate. Its fibrous nature allows manufacturers to break apart the fibers and add them to construction materials. Since the 1800s, builders integrated this material into construction products including insulation, roofing shingles, soundproofing tiles, cement, paint, potting soil and fiberboard. It proved highly effective as a flame retardant and remained popular until the EPA issued a partial ban on asbestos-containing products in 1989.
Unfortunately, this material poses health risks to those who experience long-term exposure. This fiber’s toxicity contributed to its ban on use in new construction. However, what about older buildings that still have this material in them?
What Are the Hazards of Asbestos?
The problem with this substance stems from its brittle nature. The tiny fibers used in construction can quickly become airborne. When people inhale these bits into their lungs, the threads start to cause damage. However, the harm done from asbestos exposure may not become apparent for 10 to 40 years.
Problems associated with breathing in these fibers include the cancer mesothelioma, pleurisy, scarring of the lungs, thickening of lung tissues and pleural plaques. All these conditions can cause moderate to severe breathing problems, and none of these illnesses is reversible. The best way to protect yourself is by avoiding exposure to this substance.
While long-term exposure to asbestos has potentially life-threatening consequences, you can prevent them. By becoming more aware of how to recognize and protect yourself from this fibrous material, you can keep these medical conditions at bay.
What You Need to Know About Asbestos Exposure
Exposure to asbestos does not have immediate impacts on your health. Instead, you must have regular exposure over years before the substance affects your health. Just being inside a building with materials made with this substance will not expose you to the fibers. Because the fibers must break off, intact insulation or construction components are safe. As long as the contents do not crumble or break, the asbestos remains contained inside and out of your lungs. Renovations, excessive wear and demolitions can release fibers from materials, allowing them to escape to the air and become a problem.
How to Prevent Asbestos Exposure
Preventing exposure to this fibrous substance starts with knowledge. If your company has a recognition and response plan for this material, it likely includes finding all sites in your building that contain this material and monitoring them for damage. If those materials are in a place that makes removal too expensive or complicated, you may not need to remove them as long as they remain intact and do not produce dust.
The EPA requires schools to have an asbestos management plan in place. This idea works well for private companies, too. Such a policy outlines how often to conduct reinspections of the building, who will serve as a contact person and the roles of other employees in the building if the fibers release into the air.
The beginning of any prevention program for this substance is finding it and keeping it under control. Learning how to identify and test for this material in your building can help keep you and others safe.
How to Spot Asbestos and How to Dispose of It
Due to the hazardous nature of asbestos and its microscopic structure, you cannot visibly identify it when it’s in the air. However, you do have means available to find out if you have asbestos and to control it. You can test for the material yourself if allowed by your state or hire a professional testing company.
1. How to Test for Asbestos
If your building was constructed in 1990 or later, you likely do not have asbestos in it. On the other hand, if your building is older, you probably have insulation, countertops, fiberboard, adhesives and other components containing fibers made from this substance.
When taking samples to send for testing, you must protect yourself from any fibers released into the air when you conduct testing. Turn off fans and air conditioning to keep the air as still around you as possible. You must also wear protective clothing, gloves, goggles, a face mask, shoe covers, pants and long sleeves. Cover all surfaces with plastic drop cloths. You must discard everything you wear and use during the testing afterward.
Wet down the surrounding area to reduce dust. Take a sample of the material you want to test per the test kit instructions. If collecting samples from multiple sites in a large building, you likely will need bulk sampling kits.
Once collected, seal the sample and clean up the area. Do not use a standard vacuum but select one with a HEPA filter to prevent dust collected in the bag from releasing to the air.
Send the sample to a testing company and await the results. If you have positive results from any test locations, indicating asbestos, you will need to control the product’s release into the air.
2. How to Control Asbestos in a Building
If you do have asbestos in your building, you cannot ignore the problem. You have a few options for keeping the issue in check, but regular monitoring of the situation will give you peace of mind that the asbestos remains safe.
If the material has a good condition and does not have any breaks or other damage, you can wait before doing anything, but keep an eye on the asbestos. Reevaluate the location regularly and move on to one of the following options if the parts sustain damage.
Should the material have some form of damage and if you do not plan to remodel soon, you can control the release of the fibers through sealing or covering. The former method uses a commercial product that creates a permanent bond between the material and the threads, so even if you cut the component, the threads do not become airborne. The more straightforward method involves physically covering the material with plastic wrap or a similar product to isolate the section from the rest of the room.
If the damage covers a small section, you may repair the area to stop the spread of fibers. Until you can schedule repairs of the location, isolate that room or portion of the building to protect workers from exposure. The EPA suggests this isolation and repair method as an option for damaged areas in education facilities to keep students and staff safe under 763.90 Response Actions of its law for asbestos in schools. You can use this recommendation in any building unless local laws have stricter requirements.
Most older buildings that have this material in their constructions, however, will eventually require renovations. If you plan to renovate sections of the building that have asbestos, removal may be the best option for you.
Only certified removal experts can take this material out of a building. They will seal off the area, preventing you from using it until their work finishes. During this time, they will cover any asbestos-containing materials before removing them from the building and properly disposing of them. Depending on the extent of the removal process, you may need to schedule it during holidays or at another time the building will not have workers in it.
Removal costs thousands of dollars, but the process makes an area safe for construction workers and those anywhere in a renovated part of the building. Depending on where you work, your local government may require you to prove that you removed or took control measures for an area that tested positive for this substance.
What Are the School Regulations for Asbestos?
Many schools have asbestos in them due to their age. As of 2016, schools across the country had an average age of 44 years, meaning their average year of construction was 1972. This date places the construction of many school buildings during the height of building using this fibrous substance and at high risk of having this material somewhere in their structures.
Because children frequent schools daily for years of their young lives and during development, protecting them from exposure to this fibrous substance is vital to keeping them healthy. Protecting them from this material from an early age minimizes their lifetime exposure and disease risk.
To keep students and staff safe, the EPA outlines strict guidelines for schools concerning how to handle this potentially dangerous substance in the building.
1. Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
All non-profit private schools and public school districts must follow the rules established by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, AHERA. This act governs how schools determine the presence of this fiber in their buildings and what measures they take to keep it under control.
AHERA requires an inspection to establish the locations of this material in the building. Every three years, schools must reevaluate the status of those parts to ensure they remain undamaged and the fibers stay intact. Schools can only hire certified professionals to conduct inspections and provide removal or repair services.
To ensure everyone knows what to do in the event of damage to asbestos-containing components of the building, schools must have a management plan on hand. Schools must make this plan available to staff and parent organizations and notify these groups annually about the policy.
Schools also must name a contact person who will answer questions about the plan and act as the person responsible for fulfilling the management plan.
Lastly, all custodial crew members must receive training on what to do if they encounter asbestos. As those in charge of cleaning and making minor repairs around the schools, custodians stand on the front lines to report if asbestos materials around the building sustain damage, requiring action.
2. Asbestos Management Plan
Creating an Asbestos Management Plan ensures your school has the documentation it needs to prove it has done everything possible to prepare for an emergency.
After your school’s primary inspection, you need to carefully document the location of all asbestos, including the type, building name and address. This information needs to include the inspection date to schedule a timely reinspection within the required next three years.
Blueprints of the school should stay on-site and have the locations of all found asbestos marked on them to make future inspections and response easier.
The laboratory that conducted the tests of the samples needs to give you a full analysis and its contact information. Keep this data with the Asbestos Management Plan.
In the plan, people and what they know are critical components. Include in the policy the name and contact information for a designated official who will ensure the following of all parts of the plan. While the outline does not need to name all staff members, students and parents, it does have to outline what these groups will know about asbestos findings, reinspections and responses.
You must also include plans for the future in this management kit. Your schedule for reinspections and how you will control existing asbestos are both essential parts of this plan. If you have a professional company remove, seal, repair or cover the asbestos, include documentation from the company of the job’s completion. You will also need to reinspect the area following the response to ensure the area is safe from asbestos fibers in the air.
Become Asbestos Aware With Hazmat School
You need information on how to handle asbestos. In schools and older buildings, the chances of encountering this material are high. Don’t be uninformed about what to do if this material in your office or school breaks or otherwise spreads its microscopic fibers. OSHA outlines the safety requirements you need to take around this substance, and we offer a course to teach you how to deal with this product in your workplace.
Because this substance was once so prevalent in construction during the 20th century, almost any building from that era could harbor it. The high likelihood of contacting this fibrous product for those who work in or around older buildings makes awareness and training necessary for staying safe.
Protect yourself from the hazards of asbestos by contacting Hazmat School today for information about this and other safety courses we offer. We have convenient, cost-effective online courses that make it easy to train on a variety of topics concerning OSHA, DOT and other regulations. Let us help you get become safer on the job through our courses.
Manages Hazmat School’s E-Learning courses and blog. Kirstie has extensive experience in the online training and education industry. Kirstie has worked with courses that offer a variety of safety and environmental certifications that satisfy OSHA, EPA and DOT requirements.