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Asbestos Risks in the Workplace and How to Prevent Them
Despite its total ban in Australia since 2013, asbestos remains a threat to public health. In the past, asbestos was widely used due to its physical and chemical properties. It was a popular, cheap material that protected against corrosion, acids, fire, electricity, frost, energy loss, dust, vibration, and vermin. Asbestos also had excellent resistance to wear and friction, so was used in clutch facings and brake linings.
However, asbestos is a dangerous substance to be avoided. The human health effects from exposure to asbestos include:
- Pleural plaques - the most common indicator of significant exposure to asbestos. Pleural plaques cause fibrous thickening on the pleura (membrane around the lungs) and the outermost lining of the lungs or diaphragm. While these are benign and cannot become cancerous over time, patients describe an uncomfortable grating sensation or pain when breathing.
- Asbestosis - a chronic and progressive lung disease characterised by scarring in the lungs, leading to long-term breathing complications. Asbestosis symptoms range from mild to severe and appear after many years of continued exposure to asbestos. Signs include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, clubbing of fingertips and toes, chest pains and persistent dry coughs. There is currently no effective treatment for asbestosis, and the disease is usually disabling or fatal.
- Mesothelioma - a malignant disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres that lodge in membrane tissue around the lungs, intestine or heart, with death usually occurring within a year of diagnosis. Its most common symptoms include chest or abdomen pain, coughing and fluid around the lungs. While treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery may control tumour growth, researchers are yet to find a definitive cure for this type of cancer.
Managing asbestos in the workplace
Although awareness of health risks in the workplace has improved over the years, employers still need to take the proper steps in preventing their staff from harmful exposure to asbestos. Buildings constructed after the ban are safe. By identifying and controlling the risks in older buildings, companies can achieve an asbestos-free workplace.
- Asbestos testing and inspection - the first step in any asbestos management project is determining if asbestos-containing materials are in the building. This is vital for workplaces that will be undergoing refurbishments or renovations. The inspection will determine the next course of action -- if asbestos exists, does it need to be removed or can it be safely controlled in situ.
- Asbestos removal - this is the most effective method of decreasing asbestos health risks. If asbestos is friable, it must be removed by a Class A licensed specialists as soon as possible. Removal is the highest priority when the friable asbestos is in poor condition and located in an area where it poses a significant risk of exposure.
- Enclosing asbestos - enclosing is the preferred alternative control measure when asbestos removal is difficult or structurally dangerous. An enclosure is made by creating a structure around the asbestos so that it is completely covered, preventing its exposure to the air. The method is only used on non-friable asbestos. The design of the enclosure should also provide access to the asbestos for regular inspection of its condition.
- Asbestos air monitoring - this involves testing the air for respirable fibres to assist in assessing exposure and the effectiveness of control measures. Methods such as controlled monitoring, personal exposure monitoring and disturbed soil fibre respirability tests contribute to detecting air quality.
Protect Your Workplace from Asbestos Health Risks with EOSH Consulting
Worried about the asbestos present in your establishment or facility? EOSH Consulting is a leading asbestos removal company in Perth. We offer a comprehensive range of asbestos management solutions including asbestos risk assessments, asbestos removal, expert testimonials for legal proceedings and many others. Our highly-trained in-house team has some of the most experienced consultants in the country, nationally recognised for their specialist knowledge.
For more information and enquiries, contact us on 08 9288 1831.