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Here’s how property managers can keep buildings safe


Risk Control Associate

Asbestos exposure is the #1 cause of work-related deaths in the world, killing roughly 90,000 people globally each year. Inhalation of the naturally occurring but carcinogenic materials in asbestos can lead to several lung diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Because of those dangers, asbestos is banned in at least 60 countries around the world… but the U.S. isn’t one of them.

Asbestos has been used as a component of many building materials because of its heat-resistant and durable properties, including pipe and ceiling insulation, floor and roofing tiles, fireproof drywall and spray-on fire retardant. Though many newer structures are made without asbestos-containing material (ACM), it is still allowed in U.S. buildings constructed before 1978.

Workers involved in manufacturing ACMs or in construction work that may disturb ACMs are most at risk, but building occupants may also be exposed to airborne asbestos if the material is in poor condition and/or not properly managed.

Regulations enforced by the EPA and OSHA outline strict protocols for management of ACM risks. Property owners and building managers that don’t take action to control asbestos exposure could face serious legal action.

Property owners and building managers that don’t take action to control asbestos exposure could face serious legal action.

There are, however, some basic best management practices that property owners and building managers can follow to mitigate not only asbestos risks, but other pollutant exposures as well.

6 key components of a mitigation plan include:

  1. Develop a written asbestos operations & management (O&M) plan.
    An O&M plan should be your go-to document detailing the location, type and of severity of any ACM exposures, as well as the appropriate controls. The plan should stipulate how often ACMs are to be inspected, how they should be protected or maintained to prevent damage, and how abatement should be conducted if necessary. The O&M plan is a living record of everything you’re doing to stay informed about a building’s exposures and protect tenants and workers.
  2. Designate an asbestos program manager.
    Any mitigation plan should be spearheaded by a single point of contact who takes ownership over developing and executing the O&M plan. The program manager role may be assumed by the health and safety director, facilities manager, superintendent, or in some cases the property owner themselves. The manager needs clear knowledge of asbestos hazards, related regulations, and the controls in place.
  3. Utilize a work order/permit system.
    ACMs may not be the only health hazard that a program manager is dealing with. Mold, lead-based paint and other potentially dangerous substances may also be present in a building. The best way to manage these risks comprehensively is through a central work order/permit system. When all orders for routine maintenance or more extensive construction work are submitted through a single system, the program manager can review how work activities could impact all hazardous materials and ensure appropriate safety protocols are implemented.
  4. Conduct regular site inspections.
    Thorough, routine site inspections are critical to catch problems early and minimize exposures. The O&M plan should dictate how often inspections take place, and proper documentation of any results and recommendations.
  5. Follow laws and regulations regarding abatement procedures.
    Removal of ACMs can be dangerous and create tenant and worker exposures if done incorrectly. Check OSHA standards for the safe abatement of asbestos and ensure a site-specific health and safety plan is developed. All state/provincial and local regulations governing notification, certification and training requirements should be followed, as they may be more strict than Federal requirements. Property managers must also ensure that ACM wastes are properly managed and disposed by the contractor.
  6. Get more granular risk management guidance.
    Though the manufacture of ACMs has declined, asbestos exposure remains a threat. Taking steps to proactively identify and mitigate the risk however, can keep building occupants and workers safe – and protect property owners from long-tail liability. For more detailed guidance on best practices, download AXA XL’s risk bulletin on the management of asbestos-containing materials. When in doubt, building owners and property managers should review federal, state/provincial, and local requirements and contact the appropriate regulatory agency for site-specific guidance.

For more information and guidance, download our Environmental Risk Bulletin "Asbestos-containing Material: Risk Management for Building Owners & Property Managers".

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