Asbestos was once used almost universally as a fire-retardant in buildings. After the high risk of cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers was discovered, it was banned, but building owners were not required to remove it. As a result, many buildings still contain asbestos. Asbestos is safe unless it is disturbed, releasing the fibers into the air. Because of this, the people most at risk are maintenance and construction workers who are likely to disturb asbestos as a part of their job. Asbestos causes mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestos and plural plaque—all of which affect the lungs. Avoiding asbestos exposure is important for anyone who is likely to be removing or drilling into walls or ceilings. The following is some advice for keeping safe at work:
1. Avoid working around asbestos in the first place. Asbestos removal should be undertaken by professionals specially trained to handle it safely. If there is asbestos present as sprayed material or lagging, this definitely needs a licensed asbestos removal contractor. Only people who have taken asbestos training should continue to work if asbestos is discovered. Learn to recognize what asbestos material looks like. Be careful of certain kinds of insulation, which also contain asbestos. Also make sure to post signs or warning notices at the edge of the work area to keep people from wandering in.
2. Use hand tools instead of power tools, as these put less dust into the air. Also keep the area damp to settle the dust quickly. Clean up as you go, rather than waiting for the end of the task, to minimize the amount of asbestos dust present at any given time.
3. Wear a proper mask, not a dust mask. It needs to be a mask rated for working with asbestos. Learn how to fit the mask correctly. A good mask is the most important piece of protective gear you can wear. Don’t remove the mask when in the work area and don’t eat, drink or smoke.
4. Don’t sweep up the debris. Use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags. Waste should be double bagged and disposed of at a site that is licensed to take asbestos waste. Overalls worn while working with asbestos should not be taken home, and disposable clothing and masks should also be double bagged and disposed of. They should never be reused. You should also shower thoroughly at the end of your shift before leaving the work site. Employers are legally obligated to provide shower facilities.
5. Plan the work properly. Only people with asbestos training should work in or around the area in which asbestos is present. Having a proper work plan will help make sure that mistakes are not made. If there is a health and safety adviser present, consult them. And don’t forget that asbestos may be only one risk. Don’t get caught up with worry about asbestos and forget about height and fall protection or other safety issues.
Asbestos is dangerous, but working with it can be made reasonably safe. There are exposure limits legally established for workers who are likely to be exposed to it. These guidelines will also help employees and employers stay safe. However, only people who know what they are doing should work with and around damaged or exposed asbestos material.
Lawrence Reaves is a voracious reader and writes on various topics including health, medical, and disease. Recently he’s been writing for AsbestosNews.com, a site which features a wealth of information on asbestos exposure including mesothelioma life expectancy and more.