October 30, 2011

Regulations for Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is used widely in the construction, mining, automotive and electrical industries. Along with its use came health complications that went unnoticed for nearly two decades. Once these conditions began to emerge, government regulations were put in place to protect workers from exposure and offer the medical care that those with illnesses needed. These regulations have changed over time, and offered employees better protection in the dangerous industries in which they work.

Asbestos Catagories

Asbestos falls into two main categories, serpentine and amphibole. Serpentine asbestos is a fiber that has a long wavy appearance, usually very snake-like. It is more likely to break into long thin pieces. Nearly 90 percent of asbestos is serpentine asbestos. Amphibole asbestos, on the other hand, is composed of fibers that are straight and long. This category includes amosite (brown), crocidlite (blue), anthophyllite and actinole asbestos. Both of these categories of asbestos are harmful when inhaled.


While asbestos fits into two categories, serpentine asbestos breaks into two further types, bonded and frible. Frible asbestos is in the form of powder, or can be easily crushed or crumbled into powder by hand when it is dry. This powder makes it much easier to inhale, causing future health problems.

Bonded asbestos is difficult to damage by hand and most generally is found as asbestos cement sheets, in roof tiles and vinyl flooring. Bonded asbestos is also popular in electrical components as it has a hardening effect.


Asbestos is most often found in construction or electrical work, causing a threat to workers. The most common locations for asbestos of both categories are in thermal insulation that wraps around boilers and heating pipes. Construction materials such as cement sheeting, roofing felt and vinyl flooring are common uses of asbestos.

With the increase in high rise building, asbestos has been used as a fire retardant between floors and in fire doors as well as used in schools and hospitals as acoustic insulation between floors. Most household exposure comes from paints, sealers and coatings as well as vehicle brake linings clutch plates and home vehicle maintenance.

First Regulations

Asbestos was widely used in the 50's, 60's and 70's. By the 70's the ill effects of asbestos were starting to emerge, and standards were needed. In 1972, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) first set a standard. This was measured by acquiring air samples from the working environment. The first regulated permissible exposure limit (PEL) was issued at two fibers per cubic centimeter of air in an eight-hour period. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE), constant air monitoring and employee training was also enacted at this time.

In the 80's, it was clear that this measure had not been enough. Further study was completed by OSHA and a new standard was set. Air quality had to be increased and exposure limited to .2 fibers per cubic centimenter of air in an eight-hour period. Included in this revision was an increase in specific PPE's, engineering controls and strict regulated areas of use.

Improved Regualtions

In 1989, OSHA banned all new uses of asbestos, although those in use before that time could continue. The asbestos standards, know as a General Duty Clause were to see another revision soon afterward. In the 90's, OSHA again after continued study revisited the asbestos regulations. The PEL was lowered to .1, rather than the .2 of a decade earlier. Other regulations were kept in place, such as PPE, engineering controls and specific training for employees.

Added to the engineering controls were administrative actions that would help reduce the exposure for employees. These actions limited workers exposure time and provided showers for workers. Adding vents to the workplace and isolating the affected areas also assisted in controlling the workers environment and making it safer.