Center for Asbestos Safety

Asbestos Workplace Safety Guide

Flooring Safety Guide

A 1988 EPA survey reported that 42% of public and commercial buildings within the U.S. include asbestos-containing flooring material.

When modifying buildings constructed before 1980, contractors must presume that floor tile and resilient flooring contains asbestos and must take the precautions against asbestos exposure. Contractors can get around the presumption of asbestos if scientific tests show that the flooring materials do not contain asbestos.

OSHA instituted these specific rules for flooring work in asbestos environments:

  1. sanding of asbestos-containing flooring material is prohibited.
  2. stripping of finishes must be conducted using low abrasion pads at speeds lower than 300 rpm or by wet methods
  3. burnishing or dry buffing may be performed only on asbestos-containing flooring which has sufficient finish so that the pad cannot contact the asbestos-containing material.
Removing flooring

The floor must first be HEPA-vacuumed before tiles are removed. The floor tiles then must be carefully pried up individually after being wetted. After removal, each tile must be placed in an impermeable trash bag or other impermeable waste container.

If the wetting agent contains a hazardous substance the employer may be responsible for other regulations related to that substance. The employer must obtain a Material Safety Data Sheet for the substance and follow the recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment and provide training.

If tiles cannot be removed by careful prying, the tiles may be heated to soften the adhesive holding them to the substrate. When tiles are removed intact using heat, wetting may be omitted.

If heating won't work, more aggressive techniques such as mechanical chipping can be used if a competent person evaluates the worksite and determines that additional precautions are properly installed and operated. This may include negative pressure enclosures.

Respirators must be worn when floor tile removal is performed without using wet methods or when floor tiles are removed intact using heat.

Some incidental breakage of floor tiles is to be expected and OSHA still considers the tiles "intact" as long as they haven't crumbled, pulverized, or otherwise deteriorated so that the asbestos fibers could escape their matrix.

Residual adhesive

The regulations do not require removal of residual adhesive, but it is often necessary to remove or smooth residual adhesive to prepare the surface for installation of a new floor. Wet methods must be used when removing residual adhesive. The adhesive must either be wet-scraped manually or removed using a low speed floor machine and wetted sand or a removal solution. The adhesive residues must be placed in an impermeable trash bag or other impermeable container while still wet. Remaining water or dirt in the area must then be HEPA vacuumed.

Removing resilient sheet flooring

The material must not be ripped up. The floor must first be HEPA vacuumed, and the sheet flooring must then be removed in strips 4 to 8 inches wide. As a strip is removed, the point of separation must be constantly misted with liquid to minimize fiber release. A strip must be rolled up as it is removed and the roll placed in an impermeable trash bag or other impermeable container. Residual felt and adhesive is then removed by wet scraping, and the floor is HEPA vacuumed.

Atmospheric monitoring

Most flooring removal jobs do not require monitoring of the air in the workplace. Monitoring is required only if compliant work practices are not followed, if the material is not removed intact, or if the employees are not properly trained.

Competant person

The level of training required for the competent person varies depending on the condition of the asbestos products. When flooring removal jobs are conducted using compliant work practices and the material is removed intact, the competent person must have completed at least 12 hours of training. If the material is not removed intact, the competent person must have completed a training course that meets the requirement for a Class II competent person.

Center for Asbestos
Safety in the Workplace