Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos danger is real in the workplace for Electricians, IT workers, Contractors, School Maintenance Workers, and many other occupations. This is why OSHA & AHERA set regulations that include a mandatory 2 Hour Asbestos Awareness training for all workers that may come in contact with Asbestos. 

Occupational asbestos exposure is a leading cause of mesothelioma cancer. Continuous/repeated exposure to asbestos at work puts workers at a higher risk of getting asbestos-related cancers and other severe pulmonary diseases.

A brief history of asbestos exposure in the workplace

Asbestos is a naturally existing mineral. Throughout the 1900s, asbestos was used in many construction, household, and commercial products for its unique properties like resistance to chemicals, water, heat, and electricity. The products included fireproof coatings, bricks, concrete and cement, gaskets, pipes, insulation, flooring, roofing, drywall, paints, sealants, and joint compounds. Persons who made or worked with such products were automatically exposed.

From 1940 – 1979, 27 million US workers were exposed to asbestos at work. Regulations have reduced asbestos exposure ever since, although many occupations are still at risk.

What should you do when you discover asbestos in your workplace?

Accidental Asbestos Discovery

If you discover asbestos at work, stop work immediately and put a warning sign to stop anyone from getting near or working on the area. Proceed by reporting the problem to your employer. There should be efforts to collect and analyze samples of the material. If the sample analysis shows there is no asbestos, no further action is required. If the material is indeed asbestos, a licensed contractor is needed – one who has undergone training on handling asbestos.

If you accidentally damage material suspected to contain asbestos, stop working immediately. If you’ve got a little dust on your shoes, sleeves, hands, etc., wipe it down using a damp rag. Dispose of the rag as you would dispose of dangerous waste. Finish by informing your employer.

If you’ve gotten a lot of asbestos dust on yourself, avoid inhaling the dust. Put on respiratory protective equipment i.e., a dust mask, and damp-wipe your clothes, shoes before removing them and moving away. Seek help immediately. Most importantly, your helper should also put on respiratory protective equipment. You should dispose of your clothing and have a shower.

Accidental Asbestos Release

If you disturb and release asbestos or asbestos contain material at work, you must deal with the situation fast and safely. Cleaning up asbestos-containing materials when the fibers are still bound/intact is low risk i.e., in the case of asbestos cement, papers, bitumen products, textiles, etc. Such instances may not require licensed contractors trained to handle asbestos

However, if the asbestos release is uncontrolled, you must follow emergency procedures. The first step is warning anyone who may be nearby or affected. You should also identify the cause of release, regain control, and make sure everyone who is nearby wears personal protective equipment. All affected persons should leave the area after and decontaminate. Clothing, personal protective equipment, and rags used to wipe asbestos dust must be disposed of as contaminated waste.

Which industries are more likely to encounter asbestos?

Contractors, real estate workers, housekeeper, roofing experts, plumbers, and school maintenance/workers are among the people most likely to discover asbestos accidentally or release it. While asbestos usage in manufacturing products is limited nowadays, there are many old homes, commercial buildings, schools, factories, etc. with asbestos-containing materials ranging from roofing to plumbing.

Rules and regulations for managers/companies

OSHA didn’t regulate exposure to asbestos in workplaces until 1971. Throughout the 80s and 90s, OSHA decreased permissible asbestos concentrations significantly in workplaces. The measures limited risk of workers getting asbestos related illnesses. However, the effects of poor regulation still linger today since asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop.

Asbestos hazards are tackled in specific standards in industries at a higher risk (general industry, construction, and shipyard employment).
Every worker that is at risk of getting into contact with asbestos is required by OSHA to get asbestos awareness training. The training must include the health effects of exposure to asbestos, locations where asbestos is/may be present, signs of damage on asbestos-containing material, as well as the appropriate responses to accidental discovery and release. This training must be done annually.

Where can employers get asbestos training awareness for their employees?

While there are many asbestos training courses available today, Haztrainer.com stands out the most for offering EPA/AHERA & OSHA-compliant training. The training is also convenient (100% online), available 24/7, affordable, and flexible. Haztrainer is undoubtedly the quickest and easiest way for employers to meet asbestos training regulations.