Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Abatement Experts Seek Smoother Work Relations

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Abatement Experts Seek Smoother Work Relations

Article excerpt


Successful asbestos abatement jobs are a team effort. In order to rid his property of an asbestos health threat, a conscientious building owner needs specialists in the areas of construction and environmental management. Before the job starts, an environmental consultant assesses a building to determine where asbestos exists and what needs to be done with it. Given the specifications drawn up by the consultant, an asbestos abatement contractor then begins the careful task of removing the asbestos from the site. All the while, the consultant is monitoring the contractor's procedures in efforts to ensure safety.

Although this team shares the ultimate goal of making the owner's building a safer and healthier place, conflicts over methods and procedures can arise between the environmental consultant and the contractor. In an industry that is relatively new, sources told Occupational Hazards, these conflicts occur with some frequency. If the conflicts become insurmountable, the result is an unsuccessful abatement job, and most likely an unsafe building. Ultimately, the building owner suffers the greatest loss.

New industry

Brian Bramell, president of Alternative Ways, Inc., an environmental consulting firm in Bellmawr, N.J., compares the building owner who hires an environmental consultant to oversee asbestos abatement to a person hiring an architect to oversee the construction of his house.

The comparison stops, he says, when one considers that the practice of hiring someone to design your home is several hundred years old, while the asbestos abatement industry spans less than 2 decades.

"Asbestos is a relatively new industry," Bramell says. "We're just developing the details, the procedures, the mechanisms, and the reporting functions involved. Many consultants still don't even understand some of the details a contractor has to go through in order to do the work, and many contractors don't understand the finer points of air monitoring results, turn-around times, calculations, equations, and all the things that go into consulting. It's changing so fast that there has been no opportunity to build a long track record."

Another reason cited for friction between the consultant and the contractor is that the building owner's role requires hardly any physical involvement with the actual abatement work. It is unlikely that the owner will be trained in OSHA regulations concerning asbestos handling or respirator use, Bramell observes, "so they can't even go into the workspace. Even if they could, they'd have no way of making an independent evaluation as to whether this is a good job or a bad job because they're dealing with an invisible hazard.

"The answer certainly is that the owners need to find good contractors and good consultants who can work together to get the project accomplished. When you've got a consultant who doesn't know what he's doing, and a contractor who doesn't know what he's doing, all you've got are a bunch of people pointing fingers at one another."

Both contractors and consultants alike agree that experience, or the lack of it, can be a critical issue when different perspectives come together on an asbestos abatement job.

"If the consultant is a well-trained individual and, most importantly, if he's got at least a couple years experience under his belt, things will run smoothly," says Stacy Lagakos, sales manager of Falcon Associates, Inc., an abatement contracting firm in Bristol, Pa. "When you're out on a construction site, there are a lot of variables. The inexperienced guy might not be flexible enough to make an on-the-spot decision."

The extra time spent in making these decisions quickly translates into dollars, Lagakos continues: "The consultant has to call his office to get the approval, and this might take a day or two. A day or two, to the contractor with six or seven men on the job, means money. …

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