Q: What do you think of the newspaper story about a museum maintenance worker’s asbestos exposure (Washington Post, March 15, 2009)?
A: The article was about exposure by a maintenance worker at the Smithsonian Institution's Air & Space Museum and starts out with the injured worker remembering the first time he learned that the Air & Space Museum had asbestos-containing materials. After working as a lighting installer for the museum for over 27 years, Richard Pullman was quite surprised to learn of the presence of asbestos-containing materials in the walls and ceilings he'd been cutting and drilling into. "Are you telling us that I've been working with this stuff for that long, drilling into these walls, sawing and sanding, unprotected?" Pullman recalls asking, in the article. "Why didn't you guys say anything?"
Why wasn't Mr. Pullman more informed? Were OSHA regulations followed? This article showed that even in what appears to be a well-run, long-standing organization such as the Smithsonian Institution, assumptions are made, information is not transferred, and people work in such a way that they think is safe, but which all too often turns out not to be. How is your company doing?
Mr. Pullman was, unfortunately, diagnosed with asbestosis due to his exposure to asbestos. I think most remodeling injuries are likely to come from long-term exposure and less likely to be from a major hazard or fall.
Remodelers can learn two primary lessons from this story: the importance of worker training and the need for workers to protect themselves.
If companies read, understand, and implement worker safety training, stories like this one will not be written. Worker awareness will be increased because of training, and they will be better equipped to work in such a way as to not get injured. Did the Smithsonian follow the OSHA requirement of providing two hours of asbestos-awareness training to workers potentially exposed to asbestos? If they did, was it conducted such that the proper information was transferred to protect the workers?
These are the same questions that your company needs to answer. Having a company culture of constant training increases the awareness of your workers and, subsequently, their safety. With or without a substantial training mechanism in place, remodeling workers need to protect themselves. Each individual worker must take responsibility for learning about the hazards of their job and taking the necessary precautions.
--Brindley Byrd is a national speaker, author, and advocate who has served the construction industry for more than 12 years. He established the Responsible Remodeling core operating system for dust-safe work practices to protect the health of workers and customers. He has guided hundreds of professional remodelers through the regulations and work practices of managing remodeling air quality. Contact Brindley at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qx2.net for more information.