Even though asbestos is regulated or banned in many countries, it remains a leading cause of work-related deaths globally.
Asbestos causes one in three occupational cancer deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Even though new uses of asbestos are banned or regulated in many places, it remains a hazard at the workplace for many labour-based occupations. WHO reports 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at the workplace.
For example, many buildings in the United Kingdom still harbor asbestos-containing materials (ACM). When asbestos-contaminated buildings are renovated, updated, demolished or receive maintenance, workers are at risk of asbestos exposure.
Some of the most at-risk workers include construction workers, electricians, plumbers, surveyors, maintenance workers, painters and decorators.
Workers can protect themselves with safety equipment and knowledge about how to identify asbestos and avoid exposure. Support, treatment and resources are available for people who develop an asbestos-related disease.
Watch Out for Asbestos Products
Many old building materials contain asbestos, and they’re not always easy to identify through sight alone. Testing is essential to confirm the presence of asbestos in a building.
Testing is carried out by licensed professionals, who take samples of the suspicious material and send it to a lab for analysis, which can take several days or longer.
In the near future, a handheld device will detect the presence of asbestos using spectrometer technology. This device will allow for quicker, on-site testing of materials suspected to contain asbestos.
Some of the products most likely to contain asbestos include cement, gaskets, brakes, roofing, flooring, wallboard, electrical covering, insulation and adhesives.
Any construction material, especially insulation, installed prior to the 2000s could contain asbestos. Treat all old building materials as potentially hazardous to keep yourself safe.
How to Minimize Exposure
Almost all asbestos removal work requires a licensed professional. Certain maintenance work around asbestos-containing materials doesn’t require a license, as long as appropriate controls are in place to avoid disturbing the ACM.
Licensed asbestos workers receive training and education on how to reduce exposure when working with asbestos. These professionals have proper safety equipment and follow strict protocols to prevent asbestos exposure.
For example, a HEPA-filter mask must be used to avoid inhalation of asbestos. A HEPA-filter vacuum is required for cleanup. All ACM and debris is wetted to reduce spread of asbestos fibers. No work around ACMs should be done dry, including sweeping or cleaning up of debris.
Support for People with Asbestos-Related Disease
WHO reports more than 107,000 people worldwide die annually from mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer resulting from workplace exposure.
Anyone diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease should learn all they can about their health condition. Research innovative treatment options and look into clinical trials.
The British Lung Foundation and the American Lung Association offer free information, resources and support groups for people with lung cancer and asbestosis.
Information, support and free resources for people affected by mesothelioma is available through Mesothelioma UK and The Mesothelioma Center.
Medical breakthroughs are helping people live longer with mesothelioma and lung cancer. In particular, new immunotherapy drugs are helping people with these cancers to outlive their original prognosis.
While medical researchers develop better therapies, public health officials fight to ban asbestos in countries where its use remains legal, even if highly regulated. Until all use of asbestos is banned worldwide and old asbestos is abated, it will remain an occupational hazard and continue to shorten lives of countless workers.