Asbestos at Work - Take Action to Prevent Exposure!

There was a time when asbestos was considered to be some sort of ‘wonder product’. This time extended from the end of World War II until the early 80’s. As such, it was used extensively, and in Australia at least, can be found in most buildings built within this time frame.

Asbestos at Work - Take Action to Prevent Exposure!

The number of products known to contain asbestos is truly mind boggling; however some common examples include flat cement sheeting, corrugated cement sheeting, vinyl floor tiles, electrical switchboards, pipe insulation, brake friction products (cars, buses, trucks, trains, lifts, etc) and water pipes.

As is now extensively documented, exposure to asbestos has been associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, and as a result workplace exposures must be prevented.

To prevent these exposures, it must be remembered that these health effects are caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. This means that asbestos containing materials (ACM) must never be cut, grinded, sanded, or worked upon in a manner which causes them to break up.

In my experience, the number one cause of asbestos related conflict within workplaces occurs when an ACM is accidentally worked on. This could be a plumber cutting a hole in a section of cement sheeting to accommodate a pipe, or a group of workers demolishing a structure containing ACMs.

To avoid these exposures the following simple steps are recommended:

  • Identify and document the location of all ACM within your workplace. This will probably involve expert assistance;
  • Label all ACM in your workplace. If this is not possible then ensure that a document outlining the location of all ACMs is readily available (often known as an Asbestos Register);
  • If your workplace has some sort of permitting system in place to control work, then make reference to asbestos in these systems so that potential exposures are identified prior to work commencing;

NOTE: on more than one occasion I have become aware of accidental exposures even though an asbestos register is available. The cause of these incidents is quite simple – either the work group neglected to consult the register or were not aware that a register existed;

  • Follow the hierarchy outlined below:
  • Wherever possible, remove ACMs from your workplace. This must only be done in a controlled manner by qualified individuals (some jurisdictions require asbestos removalists to be licensed);
  • Enclose ACMs to provide a protective barrier (e.g. construct a false wall in front of a cement sheet wall or cover asbestos containing pipe lagging);
  • Cover ACMs in a coating (e.g. paint cement sheeting).
  • Prevent work being conducted on ACM wherever possible. However, it this is not possible, ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn at all times. This should always include a particulate respirator and protective coveralls.

These recommendations do not replace the need to consider the specific requirements of your workplace, and will not necessarily guarantee regulatory compliance; however following these basic principles should make your workplace safer.

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