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OSHA issues new asbestos standards.

OSHA issues new asbestos standards

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has adopted stricter standards for worker exposure to asbestos. The new standards differ for the construction industry and the general industry. Secretary of Labor William Brock said the standards will "subtantially increase protections for more than 1.3 million workers and reduce their risk of cancer and other serious disease."

The new limit for exposure to asbestos is 0.2 fiber per cubic centimeter of airspace, averaged over an 8-hour day. This limit, although one-tenth the level in effect since 1976, drew criticism from organized labor. The AFL-CIO described the change as "significiant progress" but said the new limit came only "after years of delay" and that workers will still be endangered.

The Associated General Contractors, comprising 8,500 construction firms, contended that the limit is too stringent. The Asbestos Information Association, an employer group, and industry in general, had backed the 0.5 fiber per cubic centimeter limit OSHA had proposed in 1984.

OSHA said the 0.2 limit will benefit 1.3 million employees above the 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter "action level" at which employers must begin some monitoring, training, and corrective measures. The agency estimated that the 0.2 requirement will reduce the number of asbestos-caused cancer deaths from 64 of 1,000 exposed workers to 6.7, and that it expects the number of asbestosis cases to drop from 50 of 1,000 exposed workers to 5.

The standards require all employers to:

* Alert workers to the dangers of asbestos and train them in safe work practices.

* Distribute respirators to workers in situations where air quality can not be reduced to the acceptable level through engineering controls and work practices.

* Distribute respirators to maintain employees and in emergencies.

* Post warning signs and labels.

* Keep employee medical and exposure records for at least 30 years.

* Separate change rooms, showers, and lunch rooms when the fiber content of air exceeds the limit.

* Provide medical monitoring of employees when the action level is attained for workers under the general industry standard, and when it is maintained for at least 30 days or negative pressure respirators are used for those under the construction standard. In addition, the new standards require construction employers to:

* Provide negative pressure enclosures to prevent the escape of asbestos fibers to other areas.

* Provide employee decontamination areas.

* Select a "competent person" to identify existing hazards and take corrective action. OSHA will continue to require employers to use engineering controls and work practices for protecting workers from excessive exposure to asbestos, which is derived from a mineral and used in textiles, insulation, and other building materials. This approach is favored by unions, which objected to the agency's original proposal, which called for use of "any feasible combination" of engineering controls, work practices, and protective equipment.
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Title Annotation:worker exposure to asbestos
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Aug 1, 1986
Previous Article:Utility contracts.
Next Article:The Samuel Gompers papers: Vol. I, the making of a union leader, 1850-86.

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