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Custodians may be the first line of asbestos defense in schools

When parents and community members think about school safety, they often think about principals, counselors, mental health professionals, police officers or even teachers. Custodians and maintenance workers rarely come to mind. Yet, these often-overlooked workers may be the first line of defense against hazardous materials like asbestos, which could be present in schools.

Custodians and maintenance workers may encounter asbestos when working on HVAC equipment, electrical equipment or other building materials. When these workers are adequately trained, they often are the first people to identify risky materials, like asbestos insulation that is deteriorating.

Without proper training, these workers may become exposed to hazardous material through the natural course of their duties. However, the problem can be more significant than that. Without properly trained custodians and maintenance workers, no one may notice a problem and raise the alarm. This could result in other staff, students and visitors becoming exposed.

What training should custodians receive?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) require some school employees to take asbestos awareness training. The need to complete training may depend on the school’s history and the nature of the workers’ responsibilities.

When employees work in part of a building that contains asbestos or could disturb asbestos when completing their duties, the workers must complete asbestos awareness training. OSHA also requires training for certain workers if the building was constructed before 1981. There may be exceptions allowed if a thorough inspection determines there are no asbestos materials in the building.

The specific training a worker may require depends on the nature of his or her work. However, asbestos awareness training may include information regarding:

  • How to identify products that contain asbestos
  • What health risks could result from asbestos exposure
  • How to recognize when materials that contain asbestos could release particles into the air
  • Which operations could result in asbestos exposure
  • Where asbestos is known to be located in the building
  • How someone can minimize exposure

Ensuring school safety for students and staff does take a community. While counselors, teachers and others have important roles to play, so do custodians and maintenance staff.

Asbestos exposure can lead to severe health conditions, such as mesothelioma, which is a particularly aggressive form of cancer. If you or a loved one developed an asbestos-related condition because of exposure at work or school, it is be reasonable to explore your legal options.

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