Asbestos is used in many industries and building materials. It’s a naturally occurring mineral that is resistant to heat and chemicals. It does not evaporate into the air or dissolve in water. When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed, microscopic fibers become airborne and can cause significant health problems if inhaled into the lungs. The toxic mineral dust can remain in the air for hours, placing anyone nearby in danger of inhaling or ingesting it. Because of this, asbestos awareness is an important part of safety training for workers.
• What is asbestos?
• Why is asbestos hazardous?
• How do we avoid asbestos exposure?
• How can workers protect themselves from asbestos exposure?
Asbestos is most dangerous when reduced to powder; continual vibration, drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break the material down to a fine powder. Asbestos consists of extremely small fibers with some up to 700 times smaller than human hair. Once released into the air, they may stay suspended for hours or days. When breathed in, the fibers can become lodged in the tissue of the lungs, causing scar tissue, disabling disease, or death.
While there is no “safe level” of asbestos exposure, people who are exposed more frequently over a long period are more at risk. The amount and duration of exposure will determine the likelihood of developing asbestos-related diseases. Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. Exposure to other carcinogens such as cigarette smoke significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer. One study found that asbestos workers who smoke are about 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who neither smoke nor have been exposed to asbestos. For information on asbestos-related cancers, contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Employers are required to establish a safety written program to reduce exposure to asbestos- containing material, implement engineering and work practice controls, and require the use of respiratory protection where required or permitted under OSHA’s regulation 29 CFR 1910.1001. This regulation specifies that employers are required to establish a medical surveillance program for all employees exposed to airborne concentrations of asbestos at or above the permissible exposure limit (PEL). The employer must ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos over 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeters of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and a 30-minute short-term employee exposure. Warning signs must be displayed at each regulated area so employees may take necessary protective measures before entering the work area. Employers are required under OSHA regulations to provide OSHA Asbestos Awareness training for
all employees whose work may put them in contact with asbestos. These workers must receive comprehensive asbestos awareness training so they understand the risks associated with handling asbestos and how to protect themselves against its potentially debilitating effects. Workplaces must follow requirements of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 (AHERA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), and other standards set by OSHA and the EPA. Many states administer an asbestos program, for state and local requirements contact your state agency.
As always, be safe out there!