When performing work at an electrical substation, the obvious hazard – electricity – must be identified and addressed. But electricity is just one of a number of hazards potentially present in this working environment that may also serve as an employee reporting center, control station or storage area. Other possible hazards include thermal stress; noise; slip, trip and fall hazards; animal waste; and nonionizing radiation.
And around the country, especially in larger cities, substations may be enclosed or have large supervisory buildings, some of which were constructed in the early 20th century. It was common for facilities constructed before the 1960s or 1970s to be insulated and painted with materials – like asbestos and lead – that are recognized today as serious health hazards. Even if you aren’t exposed to 60-year-old substations, you may come into contact with these old construction materials, and knowing how to protect yourself is critical for you and your family.
Asbestos and Lead Hazards
The use of asbestos in the manufacture of building materials became popular in the late 1800s. The mineral was inexpensive, durable and flexible, with good insulating and fireproofing properties. Potential asbestos-containing building materials in today’s older substations include fire doors; fire blankets; floor tile and associated mastics; pipe insulation; wall boards; window caulk; window glazing; and roofing materials. If building material contains more than 1 percent asbestos as determined by polarized light microscopy analysis, the material is classified as asbestos-containing material. Asbestos becomes a hazard when the building material is damaged or disturbed and fibers are released into the air. While airborne, fibers can be inhaled or ingested into the body. OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.10 fibers per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average, and an excursion limit of 1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air over a 30-minute sampling period. This means that an employee may be exposed to asbestos above the PEL for a limited time period – up to 1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air within a half-hour – but the eight-hour exposure average cannot be above the PEL. After exposure, asbestos fibers can become stuck in the lung tissue and can cause asbestos-related diseases or conditions, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer.