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Building Health Sciences - Healthy buildings, healthy people, healthy business

Crisis Management

Fear of the unknown and health effects related to possible occupant exposure to airborne asbestos particles during a planned four year extensive, staged occupancy renovation of an organization’s headquarters building presented a crisis situation. The large-scale proportions of which created a dilemma by almost compelling the relocation of 2,300 personnel for the entire renovation period or halting the $430 million dollar LEED Gold standard project. Despite all efforts put forth, employee disbelief of what they were told, distrust, misunderstanding of the risks of asbestos exposure and management’s lack of credibility – voiced through the Employee Membership Association (EMA) - seriously threatened to harm the organization’s mission.

As construction began, and due to our unique perspective of white coats and hard hats, BHS was initially sought out to serve as the Environmental Advocate responsible for providing an independent review of the proposed approach to the abatement of asbestos on the project. This review included: (a) asbestos removal protocols as well as all other hazardous materials; (b) the potential for accidental exposure to asbestos; (c) air quality monitoring and warning procedures; (d) inform occupants of acceptable exposure levels under OSHA, EPA and other regulatory standards; and (e) explain the potential health risks from both direct and indirect exposure. Upon completion of the review, a series of risk communication tasks and meetings were required: (a) meet with EMA and childcare parents; (b) meet with all members of the organization’s and general contractor’s team to obtain protocols and procedures to be followed for removal of asbestos; (c) draft a report of findings and recommendations for incorporation into the abatement of asbestos protocols; (d) meet with the EMA representatives to discuss draft report; (e) oversee the construction of an asbestos containment mock-up available for guided, staff tours; (f) present health-related and exposure findings by BHS’ physician; (g) present building and abatement pressurization protocols by BHS’ building scientists; and (h) present final report to staff and management.

Subsequently, as an outcome of the initial advocacy efforts, BHS was again engaged in the role of Environmental Advocate with the confidence of the EMA and support of staff. The scope was to provide health and building science oversight to all asbestos and hazardous materials abatement activities during the life of the construction renovation. This included: (a) pre-abatement inspection of all erected containment locations; (b) continuous review of the effectiveness of building pressurization recommendations made to facilities; (c) review of all daily asbestos samples at the night shift’s end (work only performed off-hours) in order to sanction building occupancy for staff; (d) coordination with HSE Director with respect to abatement activities and any other indoor environmental or air quality staff concerns, and when appropriate (e) BHS physician collaboration.

Ultimately, the project commenced as planned. The combined health and technical expertise of our physician-led team in the role of independent Environmental Advocate inspired confidence and credibility, thereby gaining the trust, respect and support of the EMA, staff and management.