The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that there is no safe level of asbestos fiber exposure. Asbestos fibers become a human health hazard when they are inhaled and can create health problems including lung disease and cancer, even short durations of exposure have been known to cause mesothelioma. If your employees are working around asbestos you owe it to them and your company to make sure they are protected.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is excellent at absorbing heat and its uses have included pipe insulation, noise barrier and fireproofing on walls, structural members and insulation. Although it has been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency for some uses, pre-ban asbestos materials are still found in many older structures, especially commercial or institutional buildings constructed after World War II.
Disturbing insulation and coatings during construction, remodeling and maintenance activities in older buildings can expose employees to airborne asbestos fibers that can be inhaled. Hazardous asbestos dusts are known as respirable dusts, which means that fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye and can be inhaled directly into the lungs. These fibers create scar tissue inside the delicate air sacks of the lungs that can, over time, reduce lung capacity and cause cancer.
Keep in mind that not all uses of asbestos are banned. These include brake linings, roofing materials and cement products. Vehicle maintenance employees may be exposed to asbestos during brake, clutch or transmission work.
Do your homework, plan accordingly and take proper precautions before beginning work in buildings or structures suspected of containing asbestos products. Educate yourself about the risks and make sure employees are protected whenever there is any exposure to airborne asbestos. Even short durations of exposure can cause life-limiting disease. Proper work around asbestos includes accreditation in your state, training, personal protective equipment with respiratory protection, work methods that minimize dusts, and air monitoring. In addition, asbestos-related occupational disease workers compensation claims can be very costly to your organization.
There are many online resources available to help you recognize potential asbestos exposure and protect your employees.