Coming out of Mesothelioma Awareness month in April, and approaching North American Occupational and Safety Health Week, we wanted to take this opportunity to clear up common misconceptions and questions about asbestos, asbestos exposure, and the role of the employer in protecting employees from dangerous exposure.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name for a set of six minerals that are known for their fibrous nature, rather than granular. What this means is that when broken down, impossibly small asbestos particles can be suspended in the air and inhaled, causing scarring, illness, or cancer, including Mesothelioma.
Large scale use began during the industrial boom of the mid-19th century, where because of its impressive properties (it’s fire proof, heat resistant, lightweight, chemical and bacteria resistant, sound absorbing and does not conduct electricity) it was employed in many of the ways we interact with it today; as flame retardant, pipe insulation, tiling, etc.
Mesothelioma was first used to describe cancer caused by exposure to asbestos in 1931, and in 1932 the first industry regulations for asbestos came into effect, regulating ventilation practices and naming asbestosis (a disease caused by asbestos exposure that causes scarring and inflammation in the lungs) a “work-related disease.”
Today, nearly 80% of Mesothelioma cases are directly related to prolonged inhalation of asbestos.
Regulations and compliance
The Occupational Safety and Health Act signed into law in the 1970s created clear rules, restrictions and standards for how workers and employers handle asbestos exposure. As of 2002, asbestos is no longer manufactured in the United States, and Canada followed suit in 2011, closing the last two mines operating in Quebec.
Despite the “phasing out” of this harmful material, Mesothelioma and other asbestos related illnesses are on the rise.
Preventative focus has since shifted from protecting those mining and manufacturing asbestos, to those who risk exposure in their homes or on work sites.
Knowing how to best protect your employees and stay in compliance with OSHA and other standards will not only keep your team safe from potentially life-threatening asbestos exposure, but protect your company legally in the face of potential exposure cases.
OSHA has since created a litany of regulations for guiding companies in the proper protections against asbestos exposure, as well as standardized levels of acceptable air concentration for asbestos contaminated areas.
Isn’t asbestos banned in the United States?
Yes and no. As mentioned before, asbestos mining and manufacturing only recently completely ceased in the United States and Canada.
However, asbestos containing materials are under no such ban, and are interacted with quite frequently on construction, maintenance or janitorial job sites, which is why OSHA compliance training is so necessary when you have employees who are at risk of asbestos exposure.
Should those risk sources be removed?
Both fortunately and unfortunately, asbestos only becomes dangerous when it has been damaged or disturbed and micro-particles become loose in the air, creating the possibility of inhalation.
If your job sites require your employees be in the same areas as asbestos, there should already be documentation regarding the health of the asbestos, and safety precautions and procedures in place for protecting them. A few of those include:
- Approved safety gear, such as coveralls, gloves, goggles, a tight fitting respirator
- HEPA certified vacuums, vessels and explicit protocol for proper clean-up and disposal of the material and anything that may have been exposed to the material
- Asbestos levels monitoring tools, typically worn by whomever is in the contaminated area
- Proper signage, notifying people of the danger
- Temporary patching, typically done with duct tape
- Company provided access to medical consultation before and after possible exposures
What you need to know:
If you’ve yet to come up with a plan for the job sites where asbestos exposure is a possibility, there are certified asbestos experts and consultants that can be contracted to do anything from building a safety plan, testing the areas for presence of asbestos particles, to removing the materials safely, and entirely.
OSHA requires that employees and workers are thoroughly trained on how to protect themselves from exposure to asbestos. If an employee is not properly trained, they are granted the right to reach out to the US Department of Labor or OSHA to visit the work site for an inspection, air concentration tests, or to launch a compliance inquiry.
Knowledge of the threat of asbestos, as well as training on the proper procedures and precautions is vital to keeping your employees safe, and your company safe from costly medical and legal fees associated with asbestos exposure.
The BizLibrary Collection offers multiple lessons based on OSHA standards for asbestos exposure, as well as other regulatory and compliance safety content. Training your team on the hazards and corresponding procedures is the best investment you can make to protect them, as well as your bottom line from potentially devastating job site accidents.
Watch a 1-minute preview of “Asbestos Awareness” from The BizLibrary Collection here: