If you live in an apartment complex or share an office building, you likely rely on a building manager to make sure everything is in working order. Between making sure the plumbing is functioning properly, the HVAC system is circulating fresh air and the custodial staff is keeping everything clean, the building manager is in charge of ensuring that the needs of a particular space are being met.
Clearly, some issues need to be addressed immediately while others require ongoing vigilance. Asbestos exposure fits in the latter category. If your building manager is responsible, he or she should be staying up-to-date on the latest federal and state policies regarding asbestos and staying communicative with both you and the maintenance staff.
Asbestos can be found in many older buildings
Until the 1980s, the use of asbestos in construction materials was rampant in the U.S. Although responsible companies started phasing it out of their manufacturing processes due to concerns about its associations with fatal illnesses such as malignant mesothelioma, asbestos-containing materials are still present in older buildings.
As long as these products are in good condition and left undisturbed, they pose no health risks to nearby individuals. This is why your building managers need to be aware of where asbestos exists in your complex, which will help them warn you to stay away from hazardous areas.
There are several products that were typically made with asbestos prior to 1981. These include, but are not limited to heating system insulation, vinyl flooring and tiles, “popcorn” ceilings, heating and air conditioning duct wrap, paper backing of linoleum and wall-texturing compounds.
How should building managers take care of asbestos?
It’s advisable for all building managers to create an Operations and Management, or O&M, program to prevent asbestos exposure.
A successful O&M program includes seven elements:
1. Training of custodial and other staff
2. A plan for occupant notification
3. Monitoring of asbestos-containing materials
4. Job-site controls for work that involves asbestos-containing materials
5. Safe work practices to prevent the release of mineral fibers from asbestos-containing materials
6. Good recordkeeping to document all O&M activities
7. Medical and respiratory protection for workers
Before creating an O&M program, building managers should appoint an asbestos project manager, who could oversee all activities pertaining to asbestos, including building inspections, abatement projects and staff training. This position usually goes to building engineers, superintendents or safety and health directors. If the site is small, the building managers themselves may hold this position.
After an asbestos project manager has been appointed, the building has to be inspected. The results can inform the creation of the O&M program. In case asbestos is an immediate cause of concern, managers can formulate a plan for abatement or removal.
One of the most important things that building managers can do is keep occupants like you informed so that you know where the asbestos is and remember not to disturb it. The EPA says this can be done by posting signs and distributing written notices. These notices should include information such as where the products are located, what condition they’re in, whether dust is present, how often inspections occur and other important topics. Ideally, these materials should also be available in your primary language if it’s anything other than English.
If the building you’re worried about is a rental complex that you live in, building managers don’t have to warn you about asbestos if they had a licensed inspector come out and conclude there is no asbestos on the premises. Otherwise, they do have to keep you informed.