Current Safety Topics
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral found in certain types of rock formations. When mined and processed, it takes the form of very small fibers which are usually invisible to the naked eye. These individual fibers are generally mixed with a material which binds them together so that they can be used in many different products. Asbestos became a popular commercial product because it is strong, won’t burn, resists corrosion, and insulates well. It is most commonly used as insulation and in building materials. It has been used in floor and ceiling tile, cement asbestos pipe, corrugated paper pipe wrap, acoustical and decorative insulation, pipe and boiler insulation, and spray-applied fireproofing. The fluffy white substance you may find on steel structures above a dropped ceiling, for example, is one type of spray-applied material. The amount of asbestos in products varies widely, from less than 1 to 100 percent, depending on the use. Positive identification of asbestos in a product can only be made when samples are taken by a properly trained and licensed asbestos professional (inspector). The precise amount of asbestos can only be determined from analysis of samples by an accredited laboratory. However, EPA only recommends testing suspect materials if they are damaged (fraying, crumbling) or if you are planning a renovation that would disturb the suspect material.
Although the manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce for most asbestos-containing products was banned in the US in 1989, the rule was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991.
Asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems. If inhaled, they can disrupt the normal functioning of the lungs. Three specific diseases – asbestosis, lung cancer, and another cancer known as mesothelioma have been linked to asbestos exposure. These diseases do not develop immediately after inhalation of asbestos fibers; it may be 20 years or more before symptoms appear. In general, as with cigarette smoking, the more asbestos fibers a person inhales, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. The most severe health problems from asbestos exposure have been experienced by some workers who held jobs in industries such as shipbuilding, where they were exposed to very high levels of asbestos in the air. These employees worked directly with asbestos materials on a regular basis as a part of their jobs. Much uncertainty surrounds the risk from exposure to low levels of asbestos fibers.
When Is Asbestos a Problem?
Intact and undisturbed asbestos materials generally do not pose a health risk. Asbestos materials, however, can become hazardous when, due to damage or deterioration over time, they release fibers. If the fibers are inhaled, they can lead to health problems. The potential for an asbestos containing material to release fibers depends primarily on its condition. If the material, when dry, can be crumbled by hand pressure – a condition known as “friable” – it is more likely to release fibers, particularly when damaged.
What Are the Proper Methods for Managing Asbestos?
Most asbestos-containing material can be properly managed where it is. In fact, asbestos that is managed properly and maintained in good condition appears to pose relatively little risk to building occupants and employees. Proper asbestos management begins with a comprehensive inspection by qualified, trained and experienced inspectors, licensed by New York State. Inspecting the condition of asbestos materials is extremely important so that changes in the material’s condition, such as damage or deterioration, can be detected and corrected before the condition worsens. Sometimes normal school or maintenance activities can damage asbestos material and cause fiber release, particularly if the material is “friable.” A thorough initial inspection and regular surveillance can prevent accidental exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers.
Proper methods for dealing with material that has become damaged are:
- Developing and carrying out a special maintenance plan to insure that asbestos containing materials are kept in good condition. This is the most common method when the materials are in good condition at the time of initial inspection.
- Spraying the material with a sealant to prevent fiber release – a process called encapsulation.
- Removing asbestos – generally necessary only when the material damage is extensive and severe, and other actions will not control fiber release.
Encapsulation and removal must be done by NYS licensed asbestos professionals. The decision to remove asbestos containing material on campus is made after careful consideration of all possible outcomes. An ill-conceived or poorly conducted removal has the potential to create a greater health risk than leaving it undisturbed. Consequently, all school removal projects are designed, supervised, and conducted by licensed professionals and are performed in accordance with state-of-the-art procedures. In addition, an experienced and qualified, third-party project monitor is hired to oversee the asbestos contractor’s work to make sure the removal is conducted safely.
Asbestos Abatement Projects
Asbestos abatement is conducted when asbestos containing materials are damaged or anytime work is planned in areas where asbestos is present and may be disturbed by the work. When abatement is necessary, the campus hires a contractor to remove the material. We are also required to hire a separate contractor to conduct air monitoring both inside the abatement area and immediately outside the abatement area. This contractor is also responsible for managing the project. In advance of the abatement, and only after project approval, New York State regulations require posting of notices on building entrances.
How Can I Protect Myself?
As a parent, teacher, student, service worker or other school employee, the most important thing you can do first is to learn about your school’s asbestos activities. As you do so, remember that the mere presence of asbestos in a school doesn’t necessarily mean that the health of its occupants is endangered. Again, asbestos that is managed properly and maintained in good condition poses relatively little risk. Federal regulations do not require the removal of all friable asbestos from schools until the building is demolished. In fact, during the life of the building, other methods of dealing with the material are often preferable to removal. In those cases when removing asbestos is determined to be the appropriate decision, the work must be done under strict controls by trained, qualified and experienced asbestos professionals who are licensed by NYS.
The most important and simplest thing you can do to minimize your exposure to asbestos is to be aware of which materials contain asbestos. Once you know where asbestos is, avoid day-to-day activities that might disturb the material. If disturbed asbestos containing material is observed report the condition immediately to either the Office of Community Engagement, via RA or RC; Facilities Management; or the Environmental, Health and Safety Department so the condition can be investigated and corrective action taken.
Regularly inspect the condition of asbestos-containing materials to ensure they remain intact.
Encourage students to promptly report damaged materials.
When Working in the Cold, Be Prepared and Be Aware
Workers in cold environments may be at risk of cold stress. Exposure to cold can be an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. Whenever outdoor temperatures drop significantly below normal and wind speed increases, heat more rapidly leaves the body. Serious health problems can occur when the body is unable to stay warm enough. People who are exposed to low temperatures are at risk for injuries ranging from frostbite to serious loss of body heat, which could result in brain damage or death.
When you must work in the cold, always be prepared and be aware.
Be prepared by wearing warm clothing, even if the cold temperatures are not extreme. Workers who must be in the cold should wear warm clothing that is right for the weather. Choose fabrics such as cotton or wool that insulate but also allow sweat to evaporate. Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation and preserves an air space between the body and the outer layer of clothing helping retain body heat. Wear gloves to protect the hands, and a hat and/or hood to protect the head. Extremities lose heat very quickly and are difficult to warm
In wet conditions, wear waterproof shoes that have good traction. Always have extra clothing available if there’s a chance your clothing could get wet. Make sure that your cold weather gear does not restrict your movement or block your eyesight.
Be prepared to limit your time outside. Take breaks in warm locations, such as inside a vehicle or other sheltered or heated area. Workers may also need to limit their time outside on extremely cold days, so cold jobs should be scheduled for the warmest part of the day and relief workers may need to be assigned for long jobs. When you take a break, be sure to replace lost fluids and calories by drinking warm, sweet, caffeine-free drinks or soup.
Never work alone, especially in cold-stress prone environments. Use the buddy system. Look out for one another and be alert for the symptoms of cold stress.
If you become fatigued during physical activity, your body loses its ability to properly retain heat. This causes rapid cooling that can quickly lead to cold stress.
Frostbite can occur without accompanying hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when the fluids around the body’s tissues freeze. The most vulnerable parts of the body are the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers and toes. Symptoms of frostbite include coldness and tingling in the affected part, followed by numbness; changes in skin color to white or grayish-yellow; initial pain that subsides as the condition worsens; and possibly blisters. Frostbite can cause irreversible tissue damage requiring immediate medical attention.
Be aware that cold temperatures can lead to illness and injury. Workers should monitor their physical condition and that of coworkers, and immediately report signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses and injuries to their supervisors or medical staff.
One of the biggest dangers from working in the cold can be the hardest to recognize. Hypothermia happens when your body temperature drops because body heat is being lost faster than it can be produced. The first symptoms of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering and the sensation of cold. The heart rate slows and may become irregular, and the pulse weakens. Mild hypothermia can make you feel confused, and you may not realize anything is wrong until it is too late. Cool skin, slow, irregular breathing and exhaustion occur as the body temperature drops even lower. This is a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. Being too cold can also cloud your judgment and cause you to make mistakes while you work, and mistakes can sometimes be deadly.
Many parts of the body are prone to frostbite, including your fingers, toes, nose, and ears. Frostbite happens when a part of the body freezes, damaging the tissue. With severe damage, the body part may need to be removed to prevent even worse health problems. Warning signs of frostbite include numbness or tingling, stinging, or pain on or near the affected body part. Avoid frostbite by being aware of the weather and wearing protective clothing such as warm gloves, insulated shoes, and warm hats.
Other Cold Weather Injuries
You can get trench foot when your feet are wet and cold for too long. Moisture causes your feet to lose heat, and this can slow the blood flow and damage tissue. Trench foot can happen when it is as warm as 60° F.
Sometimes cold weather can damage your skin and cause chilblains. This problem can cause broken skin, swelling, blisters, redness, and itching.
For more information about hypothermia and other cold weather injuries, see the NIOSH Fast Facts card, Protecting Yourself from Cold Stress.
Be Ready for the Cold
If you have to work in the cold, always wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Remember prolonged exposures to cold temperatures could cause you to make poor decisions or react more slowly than normal. Tell your supervisor if you are not dressed warmly enough. Pay attention to warning signs and symptoms of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related illnesses and injuries.
A recently published National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report shows that in the period from 2010–2014, fires involving extension cords accounted for 57% of the fires involving cords or plugs, as well as disproportionate shares of civilian deaths (70%) and injuries (69%). Extension cords were involved in an estimated average of 1,750 non-confined home fires in that period. These fires resulted in annual averages of 80 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries, and $79 million in direct property damage.
The purpose of this policy is to describe the permissible use of power strips and extension cords within Purchase College buildings. It applies to use of these devices on campus and is useful information for home as well.
|Fused Power Strips|
|Fused power strips provide power to electronic equipment that is in proximity. An inline circuit breaker will interrupt the electric current in case of an overload or a short circuit. They are also known as relocatable power taps or multiple outlet strips.|
|Extension cords are intended to provide temporary electric power from a wall mounted receptacle to the plug of an electrically-powered device. They are not meant to be a replacement for fixed wiring. While it may seem convenient to use extension cords, their use indicates that additional hard wiring may be needed. Extension cords are only for temporary use of non-fixed equipment. For example, lighting and tools used in maintenance work.|
|General Requirements for Power Strips and Approved Extension Cord Use|
Always inspect the power cord prior to use. Do not use any device that is damaged.
Do not take shortcuts or chances with electrical safety, and never rely on unsafe practices such as unauthorized “repairs” of electrical cords. Protect yourself and others from electrical fires and electrical shock by looking after all electrical equipment, including power strips. It is worth it.
Increasing public awareness regarding the health effects of mold has led to increased concern. Molds are part of the natural environment, and can be found everywhere, indoors and outdoors. In general, background mold spore levels tend to be higher in rural areas near forests and swampy areas. There are several forested and swampy areas on campus where mold would not be uncommon.
Mold can grow on virtually any organic substance, as long as moisture and a food source is present. Mold is not usually a problem, unless it begins growing indoors. All of us are exposed to a variety of fungal spores daily in the air we breathe.
When excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials, mold growth may occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed. It is impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. However, mold growth can be controlled indoors by controlling moisture indoors.
In many cases, occupant actions in response to changing weather conditions such as variations between hot and cold can provide ideal conditions for mold to grow. For example, opening windows when it is hot and not closing them when it is raining or very damp outside, will increase interior moisture.
Identifying moisture problems as soon as they become apparent and responding immediately is the best approach to prevent widespread contamination of an area. The importance of alerting the facilities management team to a problem anytime a leak or water damage is discovered cannot be overstressed. This will allow the team to respond, correct the moisture problem and begin cleaning the area. The response will begin with a thorough visual inspection. This is the most important initial step in identifying a possible mold problem and in determining remediation strategies to be followed.
Once a condition is reported, occupants must not engage in cleaning up mold as mold and mold spores may be dispersed throughout the air where they can be inhaled by building occupants.
In almost all cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Visible mold is the best indication that a moisture problem exists.
Sampling can be considered as part of an evaluation in specific instances. The decision to conduct sampling will be made by the Environmental Health & Safety Department. In the event sampling is indicated, the strategy shall focus on collecting samples in the area of concern, in an area in the same building where there is no concern, and outside that building.
The evaluation of air-sampling results is based on the comparison of the types (similar mix expected) and levels (lower indoors expected) of fungi detected indoors versus that detected outdoors. Differences between indoor and outdoor results suggest but do not confirm that mold growth is present indoors.
Sampling should be conducted only after developing a sampling strategy that includes a provable theory regarding suspected mold sources. Inadequate sample plans may generate misleading, confusing and useless results at an unnecessary, high cost.
It is important to remember that the results of sampling may have limited use or application. Due to each person’s response to mold exposure being unique, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exposure limits for mold or mold spores currently do not exist.
Sampling for mold must be conducted by properly trained professionals who have specific experience in designing mold sampling protocols, who use established sampling methods and can provide assistance in the interpretation and application of results.
Keep in mind that air sampling for mold, when properly conducted, provides a snapshot in time and only applies to the moment when the sampling occurred. Conditions can and do change.
|Mold Prevention Tips|
|Non-porous materials (e.g. metals, glass, and hard plastics) can almost always be cleaned. Semi porous and porous structural materials, such as wood and concrete can be cleaned if they are structurally sound. Porous materials, such as fabric, ceiling tiles and insulation, and wallboards (with more than a small area of mold growth) should be removed and discarded. Wallboard should be cleaned or removed at least six inches beyond visually assessed mold growth (including hidden areas, see Visual Inspection) or wet or water-damaged areas.|