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Asbestos is a highly controversial material used in just about any setting. Studies have shown that exposure to such material is a health hazard. As such, contractors now stay away from it and use other alternatives instead. Asbestos safety is heavily regulated by various government agencies.
What is it?
Asbestos actually refers to a group of natural minerals which are resistant to corrosion and heat. This includes mineral fibers such as amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, chrysotile and anthophyllite among others. These are altered using chemicals and are commonly used for floor tiles, pipe insulation, building materials and car brakes. Exposure to asbestos happens in construction and heavy industries.
Why is it a hazard?
The hazards associated with asbestos come from the fibers too small to be seen by the naked eye. Breathing them in can cause a scar-like tissue to form inside the lungs which is called asbestosis. This results in a loss of lung function which can progress to disability or death when left unchecked. Other more serious diseases are also associated with asbestos. This includes lung cancer and mesothelioma of the plura - a malignant tumor in the membrane which lines the lung cavity and the stomach. This is why asbestos safety is taken very seriously.
How are these health hazards reduced?
Reducing exposure is still the best defense against the hazards of asbestos. Most occupational hazard organizations laid out specific guidelines to reduce this. These standards are set to lessen the risk factor of workers by requiring their employers to provide personal exposure monitoring.
This is to examine the hazard awareness for operations where any chance of asbestos exposure is present.
Levels of asbestos in the air should never exceed the legal limit. If it does, employers are directed to provide all means of protection to their employees. Regulated areas, controlling work practices and engineering controls all work towards this goal. Medical monitoring is also a requirement for asbestos safety.
Removing the Danger
Various government agencies encourage the training programs and licensing regulations for removing asbestos. It includes standardized training courses covering topics such as technical knowledge and abatement practices and monitoring. It also mandates for constant re-training.
In general though, there are a few precautions to be taken for asbestos safety.
Any material that is suspected to contain asbestos must not be disturbed. In such a case, it is safe to assume that it does and must be treated as such.
If removal of such material is a necessity, be sure to do it before starting repairs or renovation.
Plastic sheeting and duct tape are simple yet effective tools to prevent asbestos fibers from contaminating the air. Moistening the material also prevents small fibers from flying off.
Wearing protective clothing and a respirator is a must. Make it a point to protect yourself with gloves, hats, masks and boots.
Combine water with a low-sudsing detergent to improve fiber saturation. This makes cleaning up much safer and easier.
Remove the material in one complete piece as much as possible. Breaking it into smaller pieces can only increase the chances of releasing asbestos fibers into the air.
Clean the area thoroughly with wet rags, sponges or mops after removal.
Vacuuming the fibers is not recommended since they are small enough to pass through the filters.
There are some strict rules on asbestos disposal. It must be secured in plastic bags and encased in sturdy and leak-proof containers. These containers must be labeled as well. Any protective equipment and supplies used during cleaning must also follow the same protocol.
Transportation regulations say that no visible emissions of asbestos waste should be present. It is also recommended that this is done in closed compartments or covered with canvas.
The landfill where asbestos waste is to be taken must be notified about this load. A specific site for disposing this material must be present. No visible dust is must according to regulations.
With all the health hazards associated with asbestos, it is very clear why proper handling of this material is required. Several regulations are in place for asbestos safety.