Nuclear Health and Safety:

Stronger Oversight of Asbestos Control Needed at Hanford Tank Farms

RCED-88-150: Published: Jul 29, 1988. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated potential asbestos exposure problems at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford site in Richland, Washington (DOE/RL), focusing on the activities of the: (1) contractor who operated the site's tank farms until June 1987; and (2) current contractor.

GAO found that the original contractor: (1) performed four asbestos removal and repair jobs in 1987; (2) did not provide employee monitoring and supervision for the jobs; (3) did not begin to provide training for such work until April 1987; (4) requested an exemption, which DOE/RL improperly granted, from full compliance with 8 of 14 revised Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requirements by the mandated deadline; (5) established an asbestos control plan for implementing the guidelines within 9 months; and (6) did not ensure compliance with the asbestos requirements. GAO also found that the current contractor: (1) did not provide employee monitoring or supervision for the two asbestos removal and repair jobs it performed in 1987; (2) continued to use the first contractor's asbestos control plan when it replaced that contractor; (3) conducted inadequate oversight of asbestos jobs and failed to ensure compliance with safety and health requirements; and (4) plans to improve its operations by providing asbestos medical examinations, clarifying the role of tank-farm operators in assisting asbestos workers, providing employee exposure monitoring, and providing competent supervision of asbestos jobs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has issued its policy statement and guidance on OSHA standards to Richland's managers and contractors. Also, copies of the GAO report and DOE comments have been distributed to all operations' managers to emphasize their responsibility to maintain active oversite of their asbestos program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Manager, DOE/RL, to build on recent corrective initiatives by actively overseeing the asbestos program to ensure that its contractors effectively implement and comply with all DOE/OSHA asbestos requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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