Asbestos is a natural, fibrous mineral that is resistant to heat, chemical corrosion and electric conduction. It can be woven into fabric and mixed with other materials to produce a variety of durable products. While most often found in fireproofing materials and building insulation, asbestos was even used in potting soil and hair dryers.
This durable, useful mineral is also a hidden danger for those who work with or near asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). When broken or disturbed, ACMs release airborne fibers that can be easily inhaled or ingested and may cause a variety of serious diseases including lung cancer and mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart.
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that asbestos exposure is responsible for an estimated 4,500 deaths each year in Great Britain alone. Some of the most at-risk labor groups are:
- demolition workers
- construction workers
Although most supplies of asbestos were banned by 2000, new and refurbished buildings built prior to 2000 still contain some type of asbestos. Asbestos may be hidden in other materials and not readily visible to the naked eye. Because of the dangers of working with asbestos, employers and workers must take every precaution when working with ACMs.
Safe Asbestos Practices
When working with suspected ACMs, it is always safer to assume that asbestos is present.
As an employee or employer, you have a right to ask the manager of the worksite for information on any asbestos in the building. According to regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations of 2006, the owners or managers of a non-residential building have a duty to manage the risk of anyone who may come in contact with asbestos.
After determining the locations of all possible ACMs, decide how to carry out the work while avoiding any asbestos exposure risk. If the work is possible to achieve without a license, take the necessary precautions by wearing the proper protective clothing and gear. According to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, employers are responsible to provide their employees with protective clothing and gear and are also responsible for the cleaning and proper disposal of contaminated clothing.
Remember, maintenance or building work that involves working with sprayed asbestos coatings, lagging, insulation and insulating board requires a license. Do not handle these materials unless you are a licensed professional specially trained to handle these ACMs.
Minimize the Spread of Asbestos Contamination
All waste that contains ACMs must be disposed of in UN-approved packaging with the proper hazardous waste and asbestos labels clearly visible. Don’t overfill bags or keep them near objects that may puncture the bags.
All contaminated clothing must be disposed of by the proper regulatory guidelines before leaving the worksite. If transporting waste, make sure the vehicle has a compartment that can be sealed or closed that is designated for asbestos storage. For more information on proper disposal of asbestos, contact the Environment Agency.
Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment.