After an OSHA inspection that discovered four repeat violations at an Indianapolis area postal facility, the US Postal Service has been fined nearly $50,000 for failing to protect its employees from asbestos exposure.
Back in June of this year, an anonymous tipster alerted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Indianapolis about safety concerns at the West Baden Springs post office. Investigators found that the US Postal Service there had failed to promptly clean up spills and releases of dangerous asbestos materials, allowing employees and others to potentially be exposed to the toxin.
In addition, the USPS also failed to label areas that contained asbestos materials and did not train employees in safety protocol in regards to working in an area of the post office that contained broken asbestos-containing mastic and tiles.
There is no word as to whether or not the United States Post Office will contest the fines.
This kind of scenario is all too common in the workplace and falls into the category of “you never know where you’ll find asbestos.” Anyone who works in a facility/building that was constructed before the 1980s – especially an industrial or commercial facility – may find that some of the building products in those locations still include asbestos.
Asbestos floor and ceiling tiles often represent the largest hazard because they become easily worn and damaged. When tiles are in ill repair and become crumbly and “friable”, pieces of the tiles flake off and asbestos dust can permeate the air.
Many employers tiptoe around these issues, preferring to take their chances when it comes to being fingered for violations. It’s employees that lose in the long run, negligently exposed to asbestos while going about their daily routines.
Decades later, some may find that they’re suffering from an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma.
In the case of the West Baden Springs post office, the anonymous tipster took the right course of action by reporting his/her suspicions to OSHA, the agency that governs workplace safety.
OSHA has set a permissible exposure limit for asbestos (0.1 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter of air over a period of 8 hours, or 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period) and anything over that constitutes an infraction.
The agency should be asked to conduct an inspection whenever an employee believes there is an asbestos problem.
Because the EPA issued guidelines on asbestos use back in the late 1970s, many individuals tend to think that asbestos exposure is no longer an issue. However, the U.S. never demanded the removal of all asbestos products from workplaces, so the mineral is still present in countless buildings throughout the country.
Furthermore, these asbestos-containing materials are now old, so it’s likely they are not in pristine condition and have become friable.
If you believe you are in a workplace where asbestos has become a concern, it’s a wise idea to first talk to your employer. If nothing is done to solve the problem, contact OSHA.