OSHA, EPA, and Independent Schools – Part 3

This is the third of a series of six posts regarding important OSHA or EPA rules that apply to independent schools.

Mercury, Lead, Asbestos, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), Material Safety Data Sheets, Notices and Public Notices/Right to Know

Mercury is a powerful toxin. A few drops can poison an entire lake. Found in older thermometers, barometers, thermostats, and school chemistry labs, the EPA has set its sites on safely eliminating mercury in all U.S. schools. Many states also have programs designed to rid schools of mercury. Pertinent mercury regulations are contained in the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Clean Water Act.

To comply with OSHA, EPA and (quite likely) state mandates, dispose of all mercury in your school according to your local hazardous waste guidelines.

The widespread presence of lead in paints and the resulting damage to the nervous systems of infants and children exposed to lead fragments in their homes and schools resulted in numerous regulations to remove lead not only from paint, but from gasoline and substances. Pertinent lead regulations are contained in the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act.

To comply with OSHA and EPA regulations concerning lead, properly dispose of cans of old paints that contain lead. If you remove old paint from school walls, test it to see if it contains lead. If it does, you need to treat it as a hazardous material and workers must be properly suited to prevent inhalation or our skin contact while removing it. Lead may also be found in contaminated soil, so care needs to be exercised when excavating.

Asbestos is the third member of the toxic trinity. The role of asbestos in lung disease, including cancer, is well established. Starting in the 1970’s, the EPA and OSHA mandated mitigation and removal efforts to prevent asbestos form being inhaled. Schools are mandated to inspect their buildings for asbestos and document findings. If asbestos is found (as it almost always is in older buildings) schools must re-inspect buildings every three years to make sure that the asbestos has not become “friable,” capable of flaking off walls, floors, or ceilings and entering the lungs. Pertinent lead regulations are contained in the Toxic Substances Control Act.

To comply with EPA rules governing asbestos, you need to follow the regulations according to AHERA. In a nutshell, you need to:

  • Perform an original inspection and re-inspection every three years of asbestos-containing material;
  • Develop, maintain, and update an asbestos management plan and keep a copy at the school;
  • Provide yearly notification to parent, teacher, and employee organizations regarding the availability of the school’s asbestos management plan and any asbestos abatement actions taken or planned in the school;
  • Designate a contact person to ensure the responsibilities of the local education agency are properly implemented;
  • Perform periodic surveillance of known or suspected asbestos-containing building material;
  • Ensure that properly-accredited professionals perform inspections and response actions and prepare management plans; and
  • Provide custodial staff with asbestos-awareness training.

Indoor Air Quality
The EPA has issue a number of guidelines and best practices for improving indoor air quality in schools. They do not issue general regulations about IAQ, but point out that there are multiple, unregulated air quality hazards that can affect student learning and health, especially asthma and other respiratory diseases.

To get started on their own IAQ program, schools should download the IAQ Action Kit for Schools or order it on CD-ROM from the EPA.

Materials Safety Data Sheets
OSHA requires that all hazardous materials be identified and that a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) be available for each of them, from stuff that comes in bottles and jars for use in your chem labs to the white board markers used in the classroom.

To comply with OSHA regulations regarding MSDS, create a binder or online collection for MSDS information. If you are doing this from scratch, it may take a while for you to identify and collect them. Fortunately, you can find most of them online. Be forewarned, however, that some MSDS files are scans of paper documents that may not look first rate, and would resist Optical Character Recognition. Your MSDS documents must be easily available for inspection by employees.

Public Notices/Right to Know
Employees, parents, students have a right to know about toxins in your school. In certain cases, you may also be required to proactively notify people of information about toxic materials, such as an annual asbestos notice to parents. OSHA requires that employers post this notice in a prominent place for all workers to see: http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3165.pdf In addition, they must also post an OSHA citations and make available to employees list of hazards, MSDS records, injury and illness data, the Emergency Action Plan, and the school’s Bloodborne Pathogens Policy.

To comply with OSHA regulations about public notices and the right to know, you must make the information about toxic chemicals  available to employees and parents, who under federal regulations have a right to know what they are breathing, drinking, and touching.

Such information is also vital to emergency responders (especially firefighters) who need to know what chemicals may be present in a classroom that could pose a hazard to them, emergency medical technicians who may need to treat cases of exposure, and to HazMat teams who may need to cleanup chemical spills. This is not information you can hold confidential. It must be available to all who seek it.


Helpful Documents
ABCs Of Asbestos In Schools, EPA

AHERA Asbestos Management Plan Self-Audit Checklist for Designated Persons, EPA

Chemical Hazard Communications, OSHA

Environmental Compliance and Best Management Practices: Guidance Manual for K- 12 Schools, EPA

Federal Requirements for Asbestos Management in Schools, EPA

Guide to the California Hazard Communication Program, CalOSHA

Healthy School Environments, EPA

Healthy Schools: Lessons for a Clean Education Environment, EPA

How to Read a MSDS, Flinn Scientific, Inc.

Implementing a Mercury Reduction Plan, EPA

Lead in Schools, EPA

Radon in Schools, What You Need to Know, EPA

SB 633: California’s Mercury Reduction Act of 2001, State of California

Schools and Mercury, EPA


Example policies
Hazard Communications Plan, The Redwood Group

Model AHERA Asbestos Management Plan for Local Education Agencies, EPA

Model Hazard Communications Plan for High/Middle Schools, Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools

Model IAQ Plan in Schools, State of Minnesota Department of Health

Previous Posts

Part 1, Bloodborne Pathogens and Infectious Disease
Part 2,  Chemicals Used in Labs, Classrooms, and Custodial Supplies

Coming Up Next

Part 4: OSHA, EPA, and Independent Schools
Part 5: Job Hazard Analysis, Injury and Illness Protection, and Personal Protective Equipment
Part 6: Whistletblowers, Record Keeping, and Training




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3 thoughts on “OSHA, EPA, and Independent Schools – Part 3

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