Asbestos in the Workplace
Before it was banned, asbestos was used as a building material for many years. Unfortunately, it now poses a risk as it hides within our walls and ceilings – especially to those who work in the construction or demolition industry.
Asbestos is responsible for over 4,000 deaths every year. The scary part is that asbestos related diseases don’t develop immediately; they can be latent within the body and can take years to develop. It can take anywhere between 15-60 years after exposure for the symptoms of asbestos to develop in the body. Also, the effect of asbestos exposure is cumulative, so the more you are exposed to over your lifespan the greater your risk.
When working with asbestos, it is extremely important to follow all health and safety procedures and to keep workers as safe as possible. Asbestos risk can be eliminated, but it is important to be very careful.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which is in the silicate family. It consists of thin fibrous crystals and it has been used for many purposes including construction because of its highly advantageous physical properties. It is lightweight, has excellent tensile strength, is resistant to heat, fire and electrical damage as well as chemical damage and it is very affordable. The only downside is that when its microscopic fibres become airborne they cause serious lung illnesses.
Asbestos was a very popular material in the late 19th century and it was used in every application from electrical insulation, building insulation, hotplate wiring and much more. It has also been used to insulate steam pipes, boilers and hot water pipes. Some older buildings will contain asbestos in the floor tiles and ceiling tiles, in the paint, in the plastics and adhesives, or in other coatings.
What are the Health Risks of This Material
Asbestos fibres have been discovered to cause serious health risks in humans. There are four main diseases that are caused by asbestos exposure:
- Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer – This disease will almost always result in death.
- Mesothelioma – This is a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and is exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. It is always fatal.
- Asbestosis – This is a scarring of the lungs that is not always fatal, but can be a serious and debilitating disease and can greatly decrease your quality of life.
- Diffuse Plueral Thickening – This is a disease that causes the membrane around the lungs to thicken up.
Also, asbestos fibres in the lungs can cause inflammation and scarring, which can make it difficult to breathe. Asbestos was classified as a known human carcinogen, which means that we know that it causes cancer. In addition to the diseases listed above, exposure to asbestos has also been suggested to increase the risk of cancers of the kidney, throat, gallbladder and oesophagus.
How to Decrease the Risk of Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace
There are several factors that will determine how asbestos exposure affects individuals in the workplace. This includes dose, which is the amount of asbestos the individual was exposed to and duration, which is the length of time that the exposure occurred. Also, the shape, size and chemical makeup of the fibres themselves will need to be considered. The source of the asbestos exposure is a factor, as well as specific risk factors including any pre-existing lung problems and smoking.
Asbestos is now banned and any handling of this substance must be carried out by qualified workers in a controlled area. It is the moral and legal duty of the employer to ensure that any work done in the presence of asbestos is carried out safely. An employer needs to perform a risk assessment before any work with asbestos is completed. Here are some important tips that employers need to keep in mind:
- Employers should take reasonable steps to find all sources of asbestos on the premises and to assess the condition of these materials.
- It is important to presume that any building materials do contain asbestos, unless there is strong evidence that proves they don’t.
- Once the materials containing asbestos are found, the employer should prepare a record of the location and condition of these materials and assess the risk associated with them.
- Then, they should prepare a plan that will help to manage these risks and carry it out.
- Also, employers are responsible for providing information on the condition and location of the asbestos containing material to anyone who is likely to disturb it.
- If asbestos is in good condition and it is located somewhere that will not be damaged or disturbed, the best option is to leave it where it is.
- Any employees who are working in the removal of asbestos must wear the appropriate health and safety protective equipment to protect themselves.
Asbestos Exposure Claims
Because many employers and employees were unaware of the risks of asbestos for many years, there are thousands of cases of employees who were exposed to asbestos in their working environment and are now very ill as a result. Also, many spouses and children of these workers were exposed to the deadly fibre, because workers carried asbestos home on their clothes and in their hair.
These victims of asbestos exposure, who are now developing lung cancer and mesothelioma, are eligible for compensation due to workplace negligence. There are thousands of law suits against companies that allowed workers to be exposed to asbestos fibres in the air with no protection for many years, affecting their health and their quality of life in a very serious way.
Asbestos Health and Safety Training
If you have a risk of encountering asbestos in your workplace, it is crucial that you are trained in the proper handling of the substance. There are asbestos courses and programs available that will help you to learn how to manage your risk.