Danger of Asbestos

The danger of asbestos is often heightened by its inhalation. While renovating old buildings or working with old doors or materials that contained asbestos there is the chance that workers will be exposed to dust that potentially contains asbestos fibres.

Caution should always be used when cutting into or working with old fire doors in buildings as these may be constructed of asbestos containing material.

Asbestos has now been banned from further use, however it was expansively used in the construction and composition of fire doors due to its excellent fire resistant properties.

All workplaces that contain asbestos material should be labelled and workers warned in advance of its presence, however this is not always possible if the asbestos has not yet been identified. A risk assessment needs to be done before work even starts on older building to guard against this occurrence, particularly inspecting old fire doors.

If it occurs that a fire door must be worked on in a renovation or construction site,  there are few principles that need to be remembered:

1. It must be presumed that the door contains asbestos. Make a note of the suspected door in the register.

2. Look for the plate or label on the doors spine and examine it as the core material will be detailed on the spine and will therefore either confirm or deny the presence of asbestos in its makeup.

3. Assess whether a door has an asbestos core by sampling in addition to reading the spine.  This may be done by temporarily removing a number of the door-hinge screws and look for the core material within the screws’ threading or obtain a laboratory sample of the core material from threads.

Asbestos fire doors must be included in asbestos registers and be labelled with a warning label to alert persons to the hazard.  Many sites have been shut down causing a lot of stress and inconvenience because this was not done.  

If asbestos containing material is identified in a workplace, the responsible person must ensure the associated risks are assessed in consultation with workers and/or their health and safety representatives.  This applies to all asbestos containing materials.

The main purpose of the risk assessment is to enable informed decisions to be made about control measures, induction and training, air monitoring and health surveillance requirements.

Risk assessments need to be done by competent persons who have been trained to do so.  Decisions about control measures to protect workers will depend on the assessed risks to health.

During the risk assessment consider the condition of the ACMs  such as whether they are friable or bonded and stable, and whether they are prone to damage or deterioration. Also consider the likelihood of exposure and if the nature or location of any work to be carried out is likely to disturb the asbestos containing materials.

If the asbestos containing materials are in good condition it can remain in place but should be labelled to alert people to its presence and the hazard presented.

Labels must be presented on all identified asbestos materials as well as warning signs and a register listing all asbestos containing material on the site.

Asbestos fibre exposure must be minimised by the development of a Safe Work Practice. This is a plan to deal with working around the asbestos containing material. For a task involving asbestos doors this may include: working on plastic sheeting, dampening down the work area with water spray, wearing respiratory protection, monitoring the work area and decontaminating both the work area and the equipment used for example.

There are other types of inorganic dusts like coal or silica that cause disease when inhaled into the lung. What makes asbestos fibres so risky is their size. They are so tiny, they become airborne very easily and when inhaled, are able to find their way into the smallest airways and air sacs of the lung where the critical transfer of oxygen into the blood takes place. There they can do extensive damage. One of the effects of inhaled asbestos fibres is to irritate and inflame the pleura of the lung causing the disease known at pleural disease. An even worse effect caused is lung cancer, especially if the worker is a smoker in addition to inhaling the asbestos. Another disease caused is Asbestosis which is fibrosis of the lungs due to asbestos exposure. An even more frightening disease caused by asbestos inhalation is Mesothelioma or cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung. The scary part about this disease is that according to reports even miners wives contracted this disease after coming into contact with their husbands contaminated work overalls, which is a testament to its severity.  

Posted by Steven Asnicar



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