At present, renovation crews are not required to adhere to the same strict rules when it comes to renovations on office buildings and structures used for purposes other than residence. The EPA has enforced lead-based paint requirements for renovations in homes built before 1978, but the regulations have been woefully short when it comes to commercial buildings. However, the EPA is finally starting to shift their focus from regulating renovations only in residential buildings to include commercial structures as well.
More Work for Renovation Crews
Like residential renovation crews, those working on commercial structures, remodeling or repainting rooms with possible lead-based paint in the building materials, must take the same precautions. Before performing any work on the site, the crew must distribute information regarding the risk of lead poisoning to the building’s managers and occupants. This will help spread awareness of health problems associated with lead exposure.
Once work begins, the crew must test each work area for the presence of lead using an EPA-certified test kit. This kit identifies even small amounts of lead in old paint and materials, giving the crew a complete idea of which areas require extra precaution. Once work begins, the renovation crew, under the supervision of an EPA certified renovation expert, must contain any dust, paint chips, and debris within the worksite to avoid spreading lead-based materials throughout the building.
Once work is complete, the crew should clean the area, vacuuming and wiping down all surfaces prior to hiring a risk assessor to examine the room for remaining contaminants. The site must be cleaned until all lead contaminants are removed, and the room passes inspection.
Why This Matters
Office and commercial buildings have the potential to attract many more people throughout a given week. While residents may start to show lead poisoning after an extended period of time and their symptoms may be more severe, employees and clients who frequent these office buildings may still have an increased risk of lead poisoning.
In buildings where old paint has turned to dust, the particles can easily become airborne. For individuals working in these areas, the dust can get into their lungs, compounding any underlying respiratory issues while exposing them to a range of health conditions caused by exposure to lead. These include:
High blood pressure
While the symptoms may not manifest in everyone, they’re prevalent enough that lead-based paint is considered a safety hazard, even though the individuals can go home at the end of the day.
Furthermore, the risk to renovation workers who inhale the dust particles throughout the course of a renovation is incredibly great. Unless the crew takes the proper precautions, there is a good chance that individuals will be exposed to more lead than those simply using the building as an office space. Extending the RRP rule to cover commercial buildings will likely improve the health and safety of renovation crews working on older buildings.
Backlash is Evident
Within the construction industry, there are concerns that the change in the EPA’s regulations will subject firms to increased fines and cause a significant halt in existing projects as changing regulations will require new precautions be put into place immediately.
For firms in violation of the EPA’s RRP rule, the fines are expected to be over $1000 and may go higher based on the severity of the violation. Firms in the middle of projects may be cited for violation of the regulations, even though the rules were not in effect when the project first started.
Small Businesses May be Affected
For small businesses, this may increase their operating costs if their building is found to be in violation of the EPA’s guidelines. Instead of worrying about daily operation costs, owners may be expected to pay fines and foot the bill for any repairs necessary to bring the building into compliance with the new commercial regulations.
For some small businesses, the fines may cripple their operations, causing many business owners to express their discontent and concern about the changing regulations. For commercial renovation firms, the costs are expected to have a similar impact. Remember, many firms are owned and operated on a small scale. They don’t have large crews or endless assets needed to cover fines, training, and certifications.
Furthermore, the EPA has yet to release any studies supporting their claim that lead contamination in these commercial buildings would have any negative effects on the neighborhoods or surrounding properties. As a result, many business owners seem to question the real purpose of this shift in regulation.
“Commercial Properties” is a Relative Term
Perhaps worst of all, it is likely that apartment buildings and multi-unit homes would be classified as a commercial structure under the new definition. While this may seem beneficial to residents, there is a flipside to the issue. If apartment buildings are forced to comply with EPA guidelines, it’s all too likely that the burden of the fines would be passed on to renters in the form of higher rent, security deposits, and other charges associated with leases.
Currently, there is no requirement for apartment owners to comply with lead-based paint regulations. While this may represent a potential hazard for residents, most are made aware of the risk when they sign a lease. In most older buildings, a general release stating that the tenant was made aware of the possibility of lead-based paint in the unit, covers the apartment complex from all liability associated with lead poisoning. Should the EPA’s new commercial building rule cover apartments in addition to office complexes, it is likely that the tenants would bear the brunt of the cost.
The EPA’s goal of protecting individuals from the harmful effects of lead exposure is praiseworthy, but the implementation of the proposed regulation could spell financial disaster for many small business owners. If the proposed extension of the EPA’s RRP rule to commercial buildings is passed, training programs will help local renovation experts perform building upgrades safely while reducing the likelihood of a hefty fine from code violations.