Everyday workers in many industries from Manufacturing to Construction get exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a kind of naturally occurring mineral fiber in rock and soil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It is largely used for Construction materials for its fire and heat-resilient properties, and as well as its resilience to wear and tear.
Asbestos gets into the air when materials containing it are broken down into minuscule pieces, such as when materials are, as in the words of the EPA, are cut or sanded such as during remodeling or maintenance activities. According to OSHA, asbestos contains mineral fibers of chemically treated materials, which makes it dangerous to the health of people exposed to it.
Occupational exposure to asbestos often occurs in the Construction and Maritime industry. Exposure is also high at manufacturing plants of asbestos-containing products such as fabric, insulation, construction materials and friction products.
Asbestos exposure can cause severe lung problems like asbestosis, which is characterized by the formation of scar tissue in the lungs, tumors, and lung cancer. Prolonged exposure can also lead to death.
What can be done? In its fact sheet on the use of asbestos, OSHA recommends the following:
– There’s no safe level when it comes to airborne asbestos level. However, OSHA maintains that employee exposure to asbestos must be kept to 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter (f/cc) of air during an 8-hour shift. The permissible exposure limit for short-term exposure is no more than 1 f/cc, averaged over 30 minutes. Rotation of employees to meet the PEL rule is strictly prohibited.
– Employers should establish regulated areas, engineering and administrative controls to protect workers from exposure to airborne asbestos.
– The employer should also provide personal protective equipment like respirators, as well as clothing (e.g. coverlets, coveralls, face shields and gloves) to workers. For the use of respirators, the type of respirator will be determined by the kind of asbestos work. To be able to use a respirator, employees must be trained and should have obtained medical clearance.
– A decontamination area or hygiene facility should be placed in areas where workers can remove their work clothes and change into their clean ones.
– Employers should also monitor the health of workers who have been exposed to asbestos levels beyond PELs. Records of said health evaluations should be kept by the employer for the duration of the workers’ employment, and 30 years more.