Asbestos can be fatal when mishandled. These 10 asbestos safety tips
can help make your project safer.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used heavily in construction for its durability and affordability. Used mainly as insulation, its flame retarding properties have helped to protect many buildings. However, asbestos can be extremely toxic when mishandled. Exposure to asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases. As a result, the use of asbestos has become tightly regulated in most countries.
Still, asbestos can be part of construction designs if safely handled and often has to be removed by certified contractors. Here are some tips to ensure safety when working with asbestos:
- Wear a mask: Asbestos exposure is cumulative. Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, there is no way to extract them from the respiratory system. Wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus with a filter is important for all workers who may come across asbestos in their projects. If you are an employer, provide protective equipment to your employees.
- Don't cross-contaminate work gear: The minute an asbestos worker steps off a job site, they should separate their work clothes and materials. Asbestos dust and fibers can transfer to clothing and vehicle interiors, so it is critical to rinse off work gear before leaving the job site.
- Shower: In addition to rinsing off work gear, asbestos workers should rinse themselves off after projects. Fibers can attach to skin and hair, and travel home with workers. This is a major source of secondary exposure, but it is avoidable.
- Remember OSHA exposure limits: OSHA identifies the exposure limit for asbestos as 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air on an eight-hour shift. Knowing the exposure limit will help employees and employers remove themselves from unsafe situations before they risk health hazards.
- Communicate asbestos presence: Don't assume any worker knows which materials are likely to have asbestos. OSHA requires employers to communicate asbestos risks to employees. It never hurts to reiterate crucial information.
- Rethink construction methods: If it becomes clear that asbestos is present on a job site, avoid construction methods such as power tools or sanding discs that create a lot of uncontrolled dust.
- Pay attention to air conditioning systems: Heating and air conditioning systems can disperse asbestos fibers during a project. It's important to be extra careful around vents to control asbestos exposure.
- Don't smoke: Numerous studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of developing asbestos related diseases. If you work with asbestos, consider abstaining from smoking to protect your respiratory system.
- Don't hesitate to test: If you're uncertain as to whether your project contains asbestos, get materials tested by accredited inspectors immediately. Finishing a job quickly is not worth the thousands of dollars in fines that you'd be responsible for if asbestos is mishandled on a project nor is it worth negative health effects down the line.
- Seek proper training: Certified asbestos workers know how to handle asbestos safely and more efficiently.