Asbestos is material that we have all heard of, but few fully understand. Is it dangerous? Where does it exist? Learning about the likely sources of asbestos exposure, and what to do if you find one, is essential for maintaining a healthy work environment and protecting you and your employees from illness or liability.
What is asbestos?
According to the United States Geological Survey, asbestos is a name used to describe six different fibrous minerals that are still used today in manufacturing commercial products. It’s originally sourced from rock and soil. Asbestos has properties that make it an attractive option for builders and manufacturers, including high tensile strength, flexibility, and a large surface area. Because asbestos doesn’t conduct electricity well and it is chemically and thermally stable, it is used in all kinds of products we use today, including roofing products and machine gaskets.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos is a mined material, and if its particles become airborne, they can easily become inhaled into the lungs, where they can create a buildup of scar-like tissue leading to illness or death. Some lung cancers and mesothelioma are both dangers associated with breathing in asbestos fibers, as well. Because it has been proven to cause so many health problems, asbestos use, transport, and removal is highly regulated in the United States.
What are the top sources of asbestos?
Because asbestos was a common material used in many more products prior to the 1970s, here are the most common sources of asbestos in older and sometimes new buildings:
- Joint compound and skim coat on drywall
- Black mastic behind VCT tiles and mirrors
- Acoustical sprays such as popcorn ceilings
- Fireproofing sprayed onto steel beams
- Roof mastic
- HVAC pipe insulation
- Heat protective pads and lab furniture
- The protective areas around wood-burning stoves that contain asbestos paper or cement sheets, as well as the door gaskets on some of these stoves
What activities are at increased risk of asbestos exposure?
While you can come in close proximity with asbestos in a variety of situations, these are the most likely employment tasks that businesses should be aware of. The most common is the manufacturing of any product that contains asbestos, and most job sites take precautions as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to keep their employees safe.
These other activities can commonly result in discovering asbestos or disturbing it without knowing:
- Building renovations
- Building tear-down
- Clean up after a storm, flood, fire, or another natural disaster
Getting in contact with deteriorating asbestos can be a problem, and your employees should know to contact a manager if they see it in the course of their work. Many workplace training materials address asbestos, but if your employees haven’t received this training, reach out to OSHA for guidance.
Before You Start Any Renovation Project
Before you start any renovation, remodeling, or repair project where building materials may be cut into, removed, or disturbed, have someone check to see that the area is asbestos-free, especially if the building was built or had improvements prior to the late 1970s. Even if your building is brand new, however, asbestos may be found in roofing materials and vinyl flooring. If in doubt, have someone with detailed knowledge of asbestos come and have a look.
Dealing with asbestos isn’t just a safety hazard; it can be an administrative burden you don’t really want. OSHA requires detailed records of asbestos exposure for up to 30 years after an incident, including worker medical surveillance long after an employee stops working for you. To prevent liability, illness, and years and years of headaches, hand over the hard part of the job to someone who knows asbestos and the risks involved. With a professional available to identify and safely remove asbestos, you can focus on the work you do best. As a certified and licensed asbestos removal contractor, Ideal delivers the expertise and specialized knowledge you need to contain and remove these contaminants so you can ensure your office can be safely occupied as quickly as possible.
If you know of or suspect your building has an asbestos issue, get in touch with our team today.