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Asbestos in the Workplace

Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment, and contains fibres that are highly resistant to heat, fire, chemicals, and corrosion. This means that it will not burn, react when it encounters chemicals, or break down naturally. Because of this resistance to certain elements, it was commonly used in many construction processes and was added to various materials to make them stronger and last-longer such as:

  • Insulation
  • Floor, roofing, and ceiling tiles  
  • Cement, plaster, and mud compound  
  • Brake pads and other automotive parts
  • Cloth and other garments  

However useful asbestos was, exposure to it is hazardous to human health as the fibres can become permanently lodged in the body, specifically the lung, when breathed in. Exposure to asbestos can lead to various negative health conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer caused explicitly by asbestos. These illnesses do not occur right away, as diseases related to asbestos exposure do not take effect until 20-30 years after the first exposure encounter. Since the hazards of asbestos were made know production and use of it in Canada drastically declined in 1981 and was fully banned in 2018.  

Despite the decline in use and the 2018 ban, asbestos can still be found in materials found in homes and other buildings, especially if they were containing material that was made, or were built, prior to 1990. This can lead to issues as any work done to these buildings can result in disrupting the asbestos fibres causing them to be air borne.  

Therefore, it is crucial for building owners, employers, employees, and contractors to understand the dangers and risks of being exposed to asbestos, as well as what to do when you encounter it in the workplace. A large part of understanding asbestos is knowing about the different risk levels associated with asbestos removal. There are three different risk levels of asbestos abatement, which you can learn about here.

Who is at risk for asbestos exposure?

While anyone could potentially be at risk for asbestos exposure, those that work, or have previously worked, with or around asbestos products are more at risk. This can include occupations such as:

  • Miners
  • Plumbers  
  • Electricians  
  • Carpenters
  • Firefighters
  • Auto mechanics
  • Demolition / renovation workers
  • Power plant / industrial workers

Second-hand exposure to asbestos is another concern as no level of asbestos exposure is safe. Therefore, asbestos can also affect the family and close relations of those to people in such occupations as listed above, as it can stick to clothing and fibres can be released when washing the clothes. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos also drastically increase their chance of developing lung cancer.  

What activities can release asbestos fibres into the air?

Most activities that are done during construction work can risk disturbing asbestos fibres, making them airborne, and this can include:

  • Drilling
  • Sanding and scraping
  • Sawing  
  • Renovation and removing of material

What to do if you suspect Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM)?

If you are working in a building and you suspect that a building material might contain asbestos, stop work immediately. It’s important to not disturb the area of suspected material to limit the disturbance of any potential asbestos fibers.

If a sample can be safely taken, put it into a Ziplock bag, and seal the bag tightly. If you are taking an asbestos sample, it is important to wear the proper PPE and take all safety precautions to ensure your health and the health of others in the surrounding environment is protected.  

For more information on how to take an asbestos sample properly and safely, and how to take samples of various materials, such as floor tiles, popcorn ceiling, and much more, check out this article.

Label the location and type of material. If you are unable to take a sample for any reason, such as being physically unable to due to health concerns, or are just simply not comfortable doing it yourself, contact gotmold?™ to come and get a proper sample. If it is not possible for professionals to safely remove the hazard right away, contain the work area as soon as possible. Limit the contamination to as small an area as possible.

Once you have safely acquired an asbestos sample you can have it tested by our third-party accredited lab for Asbestos testing.This will tell you the type of asbestos and the percentage of the material that contains asbestos.

All asbestos abatements require air scrubbing units with HEPA filters, that must be tested regularly to ensure proper function. All vacuums must have HEPA filters and be tested to ensure proper filtration.

Different requirements in different provinces:

The regulations of asbestos work can be different by each province in Canada, as the procedures for the different risk levels can vary. For example, projects in Alberta must be reported 72 hours prior to commencement. In Saskatchewan, it is only a requirement to report high-risk asbestos removal projects and those projects must be reported 14 days prior to work commencing.  

Always make sure that you are following proper protocol set out by your provincial jurisdiction.  

The Bottom Line

When asbestos is encountered in the workplace it is best to get trained and qualified professionals to handle the situation. This ensures that the upmost precautions are met, preventing risks from occurring that could potentially affect the health and safety of the individuals in the surrounding area, especially those that are working closely to possible asbestos containing materials.  

At got mold?™, our team is fully trained, certified and equipped to handle any asbestos situation that you may come across. If you would like asbestos testing or removal done to your workplace, or other building, contact us today and we will be more than happy to help you out.  

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