Alaska Occupational Safety and Health begins second inspection this year

The Alaska Occupational Safety and Health office began another inspection into workplace safety at UAA on Nov. 29. The November AKOSH inspection follows an inspection from June and July of this year, that looked into UAA’s procedures for asbestos contamination and remediation.

The Eugene Short Hall, one of the oldest buildings on UAA campus, is known to contain asbestos in its building materials.
The Eugene Short Hall, one of the oldest buildings on UAA campus, is known to contain asbestos in its building materials. Photo credit: Young Kim

The summer inspection concluded by giving UAA two citations, labeled serious and other-than-serious. These classifications by AKOSH can come with monetary penalties up to $7,000 for each violation.

UAA has posted the citations in the affected buildings of Eugene Short Hall and the Automotive Diesel Technology Building, but they have redacted the AKOSH penalties.

“They don’t have to be made public, by regulation, and it was decided that this information wasn’t needed in the public notice,” Doug Markussen, director of the Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management Support at UAA, wrote in an email.

From 1973 to 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency implemented a series of regulations that banned asbestos containing materials for anything from insulation to fireproofing. Asbestos has been recognized as hazardous in “friable” or airborne form because it can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma.

What happened

On June 5, in the Automotive Diesel Technology Building, a contracted painter noticed that materials being removed from the building were those that typically contain asbestos. According to a memo sent to the UAA community by Interim Provost Duane Hrncir and Interim Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Pat Shier the incident lasted four hours and the area was sealed and cleaned up in seven days. The AKOSH citation states that an employee removed an asbestos-containing joint compound from the second-floor ceiling of the building and, “transferred contaminate equipment to the storage shed.”

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On June 12, a similar incident occurred in the Eugene Short Hall. According to the memo, Parking Services employees “returned to a space in which renovation work had been performed by a contractor, but not completed over the weekend.” Markussen said the employees thought they were exposed to asbestos containing materials, and reported the incident to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA referred the issue to AKOSH, who began their inspection into the incidents. Markussen said that before he was called to the work site, an employee had grabbed a face mask and started taping up the area suspected to have asbestos-containing materials.

AKOSH citations

The incidents above detail several AKOSH violations for improper training of employees, improper remediation of asbestos and for having an improper party remove the asbestos. In the Eugene Short Hall incident, UAA was cited as violating standards regarding hazard communication to employees, respiratory protection citation for improper use of a facepiece, and falling object protection.

For the Automotive Diesel Technology Building incident, AKOSH cited UAA for violations of access and egress to and from walking surfaces, ladder standards, scaffold standards, insufficient training, exposure to asbestos and failure to have competent persons to perform asbestos work.

UAA is contesting Citation 1, which Chief of AKOSH, Krystyna Markiewicz, says they can do.

Asbestos-map.jpg“Employers have a right to contest. They have 15 days to contest,” Markiewicz said.

AKOSH will re-evaluate the citations and either change their decision or disagree with the employer contest.

“If we don’t agree with the employer, we go to a review board,” Markiewicz said. “[The Occupational Safety and Health Administration] has a review board which basically makes a decision and the OSHA office followed the rules and documented that the employer violated some law or something like that. If there are no citations, no violations of OSHA standards, then we just do a closing conference and we leave the site.”

Markiewicz said she could not comment on the specifics of the UAA case at the time of publication, as it is still officially listed as an open investigation.

Asbestos at UAA

Since asbestos-containing materials were used in building construction up until the 1970s, several UAA buildings are known to contain asbestos materials, and several others are suspected to contain asbestos.

“Even though there is asbestos in a lot of our buildings, it is not asbestos in a friable form that any employee or student is going to come in contact with, unless they are doing it quite intentionally,” Markussen said.

Eugene Short Hall is known for being one of the oldest buildings on campus. Eugene Short Hall is accompanied by the Automotive Diesel Technology Building, Sally Monserud Hall, Gordon Hartlieb Hall, Lucy Cuddy Hall, Natural Sciences Building, UAA/APU Consortium Library, among others, that are known to contain asbestos materials in a non-hazardous form.

“Any building that is [from] ’85 or older we consider suspect, we’ve done inspections on them. We’ve got a lot of reports from environmental agencies showing us exactly where it is and what concentration it is,” Markussen said.

There is a larger list of buildings that are suspected to have asbestos-containing materials include the Student Union, several of the student housing units and the Social Sciences Building.

The Aftermath

“We are reexamining and refreshing our emphasis of the appropriate level of awareness training,” Interim Vice Chancellor Shier said, after the most recent inspection.

Shier said new employees are currently required to take a workplace hazard training and that asbestos awareness is now a larger component of that training.

Markussen said that ideally, employees would be able to identify a hazard and then call his department to manage the hazard. In the Eugene Short Hall incident, employees contacted an external governmental agency (the EPA) instead of going to the Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management Support office. The training will teach employees how to identify hazards and how to call the appropriate office to remediate the hazard.

“We had not had up to date training for a number of them, we have re-instituted that, we have gotten them training since then,” Markussen said.

According to the memo, UAA has also hired an environmental health and safety consulting firm, Landmark Environmental, to, “assist us in ensuring full compliance and adoption of best practices.”

Markussen said he also leads something called the Building Blitz every Friday of the academic year. The Blitz is a walk through of a different building on campus each week by facilities professionals, that works to spot and fix maintenance or hazard problems.

For its most current inspection, Markiewicz said AKOSH has 180 days to issue any citations.

Correction: The print version of this story incorrectly recorded Markiewicz’s statement that employers have 50 days to contest a citation; the contest period is 15 days.