Tips to protect workers from asbestos in flooring

Asbestos is a dangerous fiber that was often used in building materials before its serious health hazards were discovered. Many types of flooring tiles contain asbestos and may pose a hazard for workers who buff or wax floors. The equipment used in these tasks commonly includes an abrasive pad that runs at high speeds, releasing small asbestos particles into the air. Once airborne, these tiny fibers can be inhaled and trapped in workers’ lungs, causing chronic lung disease, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), assume all tile floors installed before 1980 contain asbestos and take appropriate safety measures. Below are some tips outlined by OSHA to help reduce illness in workers who maintain floors containing asbestos. 

• Know the regulations. OSHA requires employers to protect workers from asbestos and provides a self-inspection checklist that can help determine compliance with OSHA regulations
• Educate workers. Thoroughly train employees on asbestos-related health issues, the locations of any flooring that contains asbestos or is presumed to contain asbestos, recognition of potentially dangerous flooring damage, and how to handle incidents that result in the release of asbestos fibers.
• Do not sand asbestos-containing flooring. This highly abrasive process can expose workers to a dangerous amount of asbestos
• Buff slowly. Ensure employees operate buffers at speeds less than 300 rotations per minute (RPM)
• Choose the right products. Reduce airborne asbestos by using only low-abrasion buffing pads
• Use wet methods. Consistently applying a mist of water to surfaces can help control dusts and prevent fibers from becoming airborne
• Pay attention to the floor’s finish. If the flooring material contains asbestos but has adequate finish, dry buffing or brushing may be permitted
• Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary. Provide workers with the proper PPE including respiratory protection, gloves, and safety glasses
• Keep good records. OSHA requires worker training and notification records to be kept on file.

Protect worker health by consulting regulations, knowing the jobsites, and developing safety programs based on the specific jobs crews perform, and continually training.

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