Environmental Hazards on the Job: Are You Protected?
Every day, workers in many industries, especially construction, remediation, abatement, and restoration, are potentially exposed to environmental hazards while on the job. At the very least, those workers are entitled to a safe work site, which is why they are protected by the standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The issue remains, however, whether those standards are adhered to. And that burden, generally, has fallen on the employer. However, if a worker is exposed and a lawsuit is filed, not only can the employer be liable, but many others could be held responsible as well, including the owner of the property. Always ask your contractor for an insurance certificate to be safe. Any way you look at it, there’s a simple solution to avoid the penalties, potential lawsuits, and harm to workers: test for environmental hazards first.
OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. According to OSHA, when workers are on a job site, they have the right to be protected from environmental toxins. Although there is no specific law in New York State or Connecticut requiring lead and asbestos testing prior to remediation or renovation work, insurance and remediation companies aren’t taking any chances; they are opting for pre-job environmental testing.
Workers also have the right to get copies of test results that find and measure hazards, and can file an anonymous complaint asking OSHA to inspect a workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA’s rules.
So, what are the OSHA’s rules?
OSHA states that it is the duty of the employer to ensure that no employee is exposed to lead at concentrations greater than fifty micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 ug/m3) averaged over an 8-hour period. That said, no amount of exposure to lead is safe. Lead poisoning causes irreparable neurological damage, autism-like symptoms, reproductive issues, violent behavior, and more.
Lead exposure can occur through demolition, flame-torch cutting, welding, use of heat guns, sanders, scrapers, or grinders to remove lead paint, and abrasive blasting of steel structures. In construction, lead is also frequently contained in roofing materials, cornices, tank linings, and electrical conduits. In plumbing, soft solder, used chiefly for soldering tinplate and copper pipe joints, is an alloy of lead and tin. Soft solder has been banned for many uses in the United States, as has lead paint, but many older homes and buildings still contain these materials.
SOLUTION: Don’t wait for a problem to occur – test for lead before you begin a project. If lead is found, employees should be provided with protective clothing and, where necessary, with respiratory protection.
OSHA has regulations to protect workers from the hazards of asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that is frequently found in private and commercial homes and properties, as well as many building materials. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, it can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma.
OSHA standards cover work in the general industry such as exposure during maintenance or plumbing work. Standards for the construction industry include construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, or renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos.
OSHA also states that testing of workplaces covered by the standards must be completed to determine if asbestos is present and if the work will generate airborne fibers by a specific method under each standard. In that case, asbestos monitoring and personal protective equipment may be necessary.
SOLUTION: Your best course of action is to test for asbestos to know if workers will be disturbing the toxic material before a project begins. This way, employers can take necessary steps to protect their workers from any asbestos hazards.
Personal Protective Equipment
According to OSHA, personal protective equipment, or PPE, is designed to protect workers from serious workplace injuries or illnesses resulting from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, and other workplace hazards. Besides face shields, safety glasses, hard hats, and safety shoes, protective equipment includes a variety of devices and garments such as goggles, coveralls, gloves, vests, and respirators. OSHA says that an employer is required to provide PPE, including respirators, when hazards are present. Employers are required to assess their workplace to determine if hazards are present that require the use of personal protective equipment.
Penalties & Fines
If you are cited for an OSHA violation, the fines are steep; they start at $13,653 for a one-time violation, $13,653 per day following a failure to abate, and $136,532 for willful or repeated violations.
Advice for Homeowners
The simplest way to avoid lawsuits, penalties, and irreparable harm to workers is to test for hazardous materials prior to starting a job. Be sure to ask the company you hire about lead and asbestos testing, especially if it was built before 1980, as older homes tend to harbor these toxins. If lead or asbestos is present, make sure they are following the EPA regulations for working with these materials.
To schedule an inspection, call RTK at 800.392.6468 or click here. To contact OSHA, visit www.osha.gov, or call 1-800-321-OSHA.