Once upon a time, people had an almost gleeful enthusiasm for “building materials of the future.” In the buzz that was the Gilded Age, and then later the Atomic Age, there was a fascination with building materials that were seen as futuristic, scientific, and new.
However, unfortunately, many of these materials were later shown to have unfortunate health side effects, such as lead piping, paint solvents, chemical treatments for wood, and asbestos. Asbestos in particular has received a new infamy as an especially hazardous substance, and while it is not used very often now, it’s still common in older buildings. Since then, new safety guidelines have been enacted for dealing with asbestos.
While asbestos can be toxic, keeping these safety guidelines in place when encountering it can help preserve your health and happiness, as well as those of your co-workers. Remember, should you ever suspect an encounter with asbestos in your building, you should immediately treat it with caution and limit unnecessary contact with it as much as possible. Upon discovering asbestos within your building, you should take the following steps.
Alert Your Employer or the Building Owner
The very first step upon running into asbestos should be immediately to stop whatever you are doing, and speak to your supervisor or the building owner about the matter at once. If necessary, you may need to talk to them about hiring a licensed contractor to continue work or remove the asbestos.
Your employers have a legal and moral responsibility to protect the health and welfare of those under their employ, and as such they should immediately take steps to eliminate any problems they are alerted to. This can either be in the form of removing the threat from the workplace immediately or else by limiting contact to it if removal is not practical. Before any further work in that section of the building can continue, they’ll need to do a risk assessment to determine whether or not the building is safe for work. They too have strict safety guidelines regarding asbestos that they must adhere to.
In general they need to assume that, in the event of a report, asbestos is present unless enough evidence is given to say otherwise. They must then take extensive measures to find the source of asbestos, measure the potential risk it poses to staff, write up a plan of action for safely dealing with it, and then educate any potentially affected workforce about asbestos, its health risks, and how to safely work around it.
Take Steps to Protect Yourself
If you are still expected to work within the area, you need to keep in mind how to safely work while dealing with asbestos without adversely damaging your health. One of the first things you’ll need to check is whether or not your job will disturb the asbestos in any way, especially if doing so may create dust or disturb the fibers within it. You should also check to see if any of the material is deteriorating and, if so, take measures to either repair, seal, or remove it so as to keep control of the risk.
Whenever working with or around asbestos, the most important thing to do is to protecting your respiratory system – your breathing for those who skipped high school science classes. This can easily be achieved by wearing respiratory face mask, ensuring it is secured properly, and a pair of safety goggles. This will prevent asbestos fibers from causing breathing problems, as well as protecting your eyesight from dislodged debris.
Another thing to keep in mind is just how much dust your work is doing. If you must partially remove or touch asbestos yourself during the course of your work, avoid as much as possible any action that could throw up dust or stray fibres. This includes tasks such as drilling through the asbestos, sawing through it, or carelessly breaking off chunks from it. If your work does accidentally disturb asbestos, do not sweep it up – use a vacuum to suck up the debris, then seal it away in a double bag, to be disposed of in a specialised facility. Needless to say, you should not smoke, eat, or drink around asbestos either.
If the asbestos is in good condition, there’s not any use in disturbing it. Just work carefully around it and make sure that it is touched as little as possible. Following the above safety guidelines should be enough to help you deal with it. If, however, its structure has deteriorated to the point where it poses a direct risk to staff, it should be removed as soon as possible.
At no time should your employer ask you to remove asbestos yourself, unless you also happen to be a trained contractor for whom asbestos removal forms part of your job description. If ever asbestos needs to be removed from a building, your employer must hire out a specialised contractor to do it for them. Your health is important and should not be placed at risk needlessly.
The writer, Christian Mills, is currently studying medicine and writes on the side about occupational health related topics to help supplement his studies. For those employers finding themselves in need of a more up-to-date health and safety regime, he recommends turning to cestoday.com. You can learn more about Christian by visiting Google+.