Preventing Asbestos Exposure in the Auto Repair Industry

Professional automotive technicians and those who perform mechanics at home may be at risk for asbestos dust exposure. Asbestos was widely used in the automotive industry because of its extraordinary heat and fire resistant properties, and was utilized primarily in brake and clutch manufacturing. The dangers of asbestos exposure should not be underestimated, and mechanics and those conducting at-home auto repairs should assume that all brakes and clutches contain asbestos. The inhalation of asbestos dust results in the often-fatal diagnosis of such illnesses as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. If you have developed any of these diseases as the result of occupational exposure, contact an asbestos attorney immediately to explore your legal rights.

Employees within the automotive repair industry are subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines to control asbestos dust. Since these guidelines are required by law and cannot be enforced beyond the workplace, many do-it-yourselfers are not fully aware of the prevalence of asbestos. Those repairing brakes and clutches at home are fully able to minimize exposure. Potential asbestos dust is seen when a clutch cover, drum, wheel, or brake disk is removed from an automotive. This dust is often so small that is cannot be seen by the naked eye, thus furthering the danger of inhalation. You cannot tell whether this dust contains asbestos simply by looking at them.

As a professional technician, what work practices must I follow to reduce potential exposures to asbestos?

If you work in a commercial automotive shop that performs work on more than five brake or clutch jobs per week, OSHA regulations require the use of one of the following work practices:

  • Negative-Pressure Enclosure/HEPA Vacuum System Method: This type of enclosure and vacuum system has a special box with clear plastic walls or windows, which fits tightly around a brake or clutch assembly to prevent asbestos exposure.
  • Low Pressure/Wet Cleaning Method: This specially designed low-pressure spray equipment wets down the brake assembly and catches the runoff in a special basin to prevent airborne brake dust from spreading in the work area.
  • If you work in a commercial automotive shop that performs work on no more than five brake or clutch jobs per week, OSHA regulations allow the following method instead:
  • Wet Wipe Method: This method involves using a spray bottle or other device capable of delivering a fine mist of water, or amended water (water with a detergent), at low pressure to wet all brake and clutch parts. The brakes can then be wiped clean with a cloth.

As a home mechanic, what can I do to protect myself from exposure?

If you are not able to determine whether your brakes or clutch contain asbestos, you may want to consider having them serviced at a commercial automotive shop. If, however, this is not possible and you do not have access to the equipment professional automotive shops use to comply with the OSHA work practices, you may want to consider using the wet wipe method described above.

Work Practice Don’ts for Home Mechanics:

  • Do not use compressed air for cleaning. Compressed air blows dust into the air.
  • Do not clean brakes or clutches with a dry rag, brush (wet or dry), or garden hose.
  • Do not use an ordinary wet/dry vac without a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to vacuum dust. Invisible particles of brake or clutch dust can stay in the air and on your clothes long after a job is complete.
  • Avoid taking work clothing inside the home or tracking dust through the house after performing brake and clutch work to prevent exposing your family to dust particles that may contain asbestos.

Work Practice Do’s for Home Mechanics:

  • Use pre-ground, ready-to-install parts.
  • If a brake or clutch lining must be drilled, grooved, cut, beveled, or lathe-turned, use low speeds to keep down the amount of dust created.
  • Use machinery with a local exhaust dust collection system equipped with HEPA filtration to prevent dust exposures and work area contamination.
  • Change into clean clothes before going inside the home and wash soiled clothes separately.
  • Minimize exposure to others by keeping bystanders, as well as food and drinks, away from the work area.

If you suspect any of these requirements are not being adhered to in the workplace and you may be at risk for the development of an asbestos-related illness, contact a skilled mesothelioma attorney for a free consultation.