Reducing exposure to toxic materials in the workplace is important for people in occupations that present a higher risk of contact with hazardous substances, all of which (where possible) should be stored in a flammable liquid storage cabinet or similar. One of the most dangerous materials encountered in workplaces worldwide is asbestos and it wasn’t banned in Australia until 2003.
Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a cancer that has no cure. Mesothelioma usually forms in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and the average survival time for people with this cancer is around one year. Avoiding asbestos is crucial to preventing this aggressive cancer; once it’s diagnosed the average life expectancy of a patient ranges from 12 to 21 months.
Safe Work Australia, the government’s division that regulates safe work environments, oversees the management of asbestos materials in the workplace, including training workers at risk of asbestos exposure, licensing requirements for asbestos removal, and management of asbestos abatement and naturally occurring asbestos.
Additionally, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was formed on July 1, 2013, to put a spotlight on asbestos issues beyond that of workplace safety and into overall public health. This organization replaced the former Office of Asbestos Safety and works to raise public awareness of the health effects of asbestos and how to avoid the toxic material.
Studies show that around 20 percent of people who work with asbestos regularly end up developing an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis. Avoiding asbestos exposure is the only way to limit your risk of developing mesothelioma, and this is particularly important for people who encounter asbestos regularly on the job.
Learning all you can about asbestos, including the types of products that may contain asbestos and how to limit your exposure to them, will help you avoid the carcinogen. Among the most important asbestos safety topics to learn about are identifying friable asbestos materials, wetting dry asbestos products to reduce exposure and using safety gear properly.
The term friable means easily crumbled. When asbestos materials become friable they easily fall apart when touched or disturbed and this causes asbestos fibers to become airborne.
Certain asbestos products are more likely to become friable with age, such as asbestos pipe wrapping, insulation, adhesives, spackle, plasters and millboard.
These asbestos products should be handled with extra care because they more easily break apart and release asbestos fibers than non-friable materials. Safe Work Australia requires a licensed asbestos removalist to take care of friable asbestos because the risk of exposure is high.
When asbestos materials are dry, and especially if they are friable, they are more likely to release toxic fibers into the air.
Wetting asbestos materials reduces the chance of fibers becoming airborne. Using detergent water as well as thickened substances like hair gel and shaving cream to cover asbestos materials will help control the release of fibers.
If you encounter asbestos in the workplace, carefully wet it and call a licensed asbestos removal company. Do not attempt to remove the material yourself.
Some people can’t entirely avoid asbestos products on the job because their occupation requires them to work with old asbestos materials. Plumbers, electricians and construction workers are among the occupations that may regularly encounter asbestos products.
Employers are required to provide safety gear and equipment to employees who work with asbestos. Protective clothing, breathing masks and tools like asbestos vacuum cleaners are examples of the equipment that protect people from asbestos at work.
Protective equipment must be maintained, cleaned and used properly to work effectively. Employers are required to teach workers how to take care of the safety gear and use it correctly. They’re also required to replace broken or damaged safety equipment.
Make sure to have a conversation with your employer about asbestos safety measures and equipment in your workplace. You can reach out to Safe Work Australia or Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency if you have any questions about asbestos safety.
Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of natural and integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor and earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from Rollins College in Florida.
Safe Work Australia. (2011, December). Model code of practice – how to manage and control asbestos in the workplace. Retrieved from http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/manage-control-asbestos-cophttp://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/manage-control-asbestos-cop
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from http://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/about-us
Safe Work Australia. (2005, January 1). Safe removal of asbestos 2nd edition [NOHSC: 2002(2005)]. Retrieved from http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/cp2005saferemovalofasbestos2ndedition