Here’s something many people who should know … don’t know: Agencies that approve building and demolition permits require property owners to either presume asbestos is present in the construction materials or to conduct construction materials testing for asbestos to prove it is not.
Despite the seriousness of the matter — potential fines, loss of time, and maybe even getting named in a lawsuit or claim — the erroneous belief that asbestos in construction materials is a non-issue catches owners and building contractors in an uncomfortable net every year.
But hasn’t asbestos been banned for decades now?
The truth is that many, but not all, of the materials used to construct and finish a building are indeed banned . . . yet asbestos is still often present in both older and even newly-constructed buildings.
The health risks from asbestos exposure are so severe that the EPA and other federal agencies take no chances. Testing isn’t just a good idea; it’s the law.
Here’s why the asbestos in construction materials testing problem exists and what you can do about it.
Why Asbestos in Construction Materials Still Matters
Asbestos is still used regularly at many construction material manufacturing facilities outside the United States. Some of these products are legal to use in the United States (roofing and flooring, for instance), and some are not. Moreover, the quality control processes for imported products are often inadequate.
Public and environmental health officials monitor the asbestos threat by requiring owners to test for asbestos-containing products prior to disturbing any potentially contaminated area during construction, remodeling, or demolition. In addition to needing asbestos inspections to obtain permits, employers are required to comply with OSHA regulations that safeguard workers, the environment, and the public. The OSHA requirements are included in both the general industry and construction industry standards.
Remember, the law provides you with two choices. You can either presume asbestos is present in the construction materials, or you can conduct asbestos inspections to prove it is not present. If you choose to assume asbestos is present on the site, the cost and length of your project will increase accordingly. That’s because the work procedures required when the presence of asbestos is known are considerably more stringent than those for workplaces deemed clear of asbestos hazards.
OSHA asbestos standards for construction require special protective equipment, special training, and certain other safety measures be provided to workers in known contaminated areas. Assume the presence of asbestos, and you’ve just committed to following the requirements listed in the standards.
Two Smart Ways To Solve the Asbestos in Construction Materials Testing Problem
There are two simple methods you can use to avoid the potential fines and delays you can bring on yourself when you ignore asbestos in construction materials testing regulations.
First solution: If renovation or demolition of an existing structure is planned, schedule an asbestos inspection just prior to the beginning of the work. This is the most common approach for generating the inspection reports necessary to obtain the desired permits.
The cost of the inspection is minimal compared to the cost of not getting an inspection. This method is acceptable to the permitting agencies. It does not, however, address repair or remodel work that occurs between the time of project completion and the next renovation or remodel. Depending on the time lapse and the amount of construction activity required, your property will need the asbestos activity every time a certain level of work is performed, for example when new materials on the EPAs list of suspected to contain asbestos are installed. At some point, the cost of repeated inspections becomes excessive.
There are also other potential problems associated with getting inspections conducted in phases. These challenges can include a negative impact on occupants and operational continuity, managers mistakenly presuming the inspection included more of the building than the limited project scope areas, and delays in obtaining permits that can extend the time necessary to complete the project.
Second solution: Conduct the asbestos inspection while the building is under construction. This approach allows for access to all materials, including those that may become hidden beneath the surface or would be difficult to access once construction is completed. With this method, the inspections can be performed more efficiently. The inspection area is still a construction area and not subject to the delays common to inspecting an occupied building and with easier access to all materials.
If you choose to wait until after construction is completed to secure the asbestos inspection you’ll be stacking on additional issues since the inspection will certainly cause some amount of damage to the newly installed materials. Flooring materials, for instance, can be difficult to repair and may leave unsightly blemishes to the finishes.
Sampling during the installation of materials allows for immediate repairs by the material installers. This approach also ensures that all materials are captured in one inspection project and reduces inspection costs over time.
The asbestos inspection report is useful for managing materials during the life of the building and for securing future permits. If asbestos is found to be present in any materials during the construction phase, a decision can be made to either replace the material prior to occupancy or prepare for the safe management of the materials after occupancy. Smart owners bundle healthy building construction audits with asbestos inspections to make the process even more cost-effective. If no asbestos is found during the inspection, there is no need for special asbestos training or materials for routine maintenance activities which would be required if asbestos were present or materials are not inspected.
What Your Designer Doesn’t Tell You About Construction Materials Testing Can Lead to Undesired Results
Many building owners and prospective owners aren’t aware they must choose between presuming asbestos is present in a newly-constructed building or conducting inspections to prove it is not present. It is crucial that building designers stress the OSHA and EPA regulatory liabilities that come into play when owners do not obtain an asbestos inspection.
This can be challenging to designers for a number of reasons:
- Many people think the regulations are unrealistic
- Others doubt that asbestos inspections are required at all for new construction
- The regulations can be difficult to interpret and communicate
- Some have skipped asbestos inspections and have failed to obtain proper permits in the past without consequence — so they see no reason to worry about it now
FACS encourages designers to provide the client with a building ready to occupy and with all potential liabilities clearly addressed. Developing a clear plan to understand and communicate these issues is essential.
Qualified asbestos inspectors for buildings provide quality inspections and timely inspection reports to provide the client with the documents needed to occupy with confidence and security. Don’t skimp on this requirement. Make sure the asbestos inspector you choose is fully capable of identifying problem areas and creating the proper paperwork. In the long run, you’ll be better served and will save both time and money.
The FACS team can perform asbestos in construction materials testing for you, deliver the exact records you need to keep, and advise you on other worker or environmental safety needs. Call FACS at (888) 711-9998.