Asbestos is highly resistant to fire, heat, and harsh chemicals. The material was used in a variety of building materials including roof sheets, cement pipe, floor tile, wall coverings, and many other products. Once called the ‘miracle mineral’, it is now known that exposure to asbestos leads to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and fatal lung cancer.
Occupational asbestos exposure refers to inhalation of asbestos fibres at the workplace. It is the most common types of asbestos exposure that commonly happens with blue-collar workers. The UK law has placed strict restrictions on the use of asbestos in building material.
In this article, we will take a look at the dangers of occupational asbestos exposure, and also what steps employers must take to reduce the risk of exposure.
Dangerous Health Effects of Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos related disorders arise when the workers inhale asbestos. While the use of asbestos has been dramatically reduced due to the introduction of various regulations in the UK, the fact is that the risk has not been completely eliminated. There are a number of occupations where the workers are exposed to asbestos.
The risk of exposure to the dangerous mineral is particularly high in certain occupations such as construction workers, asbestos miners, and manufacturer of asbestos-containing materials. Workers involved in removing or repairing of asbestos-containing material are also at increased risk of exposure to the deadly fibres.
In addition, workers can be exposed to asbestos while cutting asbestos-coated cement pipes, servicing asbestos-containing automotive parts such as brakes, and applying asbestos fireproof materials and paints.
Microscopic asbestos fibres can enter the lungs when the workers don’t take safety measures. Genetic changes in the lung tissues can occur in as little as 10 years after exposure to the asbestos material. The fibres cannot be expelled from the body and accumulate over time. They can penetrate the pleura that surrounds and protects the lungs thereby resulting in impaired breathing.
Legislations Regarding Occupational Asbestos Exposure
In the UK, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 specifies employers’ responsibility to reduce exposure to asbestos in the workplace. The employer has the duty to prevent asbestos exposure at the worksite.
The regulations mandate that work involving asbestos containing material should be carried out by licensed asbestos removal contractors. The employers are also required to hire licensed contractors for asbestos analysis and asbestos monitoring at the worksite.
The control limit specified by the regulations is 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre. Exposure to asbestos should be reduced to as far below this limit as possible.
Additionally, training is mandatory for any worker who is involved in asbestos-related tasks. This includes workers who may come into contact with asbestos such as cable installers and asbestos removal workers.