The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s 14th Annual Global Asbestos Awareness Week takes place April 1-7, 2018. The week is dedicated to raising awareness and correcting misconceptions about asbestos, with the goal of banning the mining and use of asbestos, preventing asbestos exposure, strengthening laws and regulations, and fostering international partnerships.
How does asbestos affect workers?
Both the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have said there is no safe form of asbestos, nor is there a threshold level of exposure that is risk-free. In fact, the IARC declared asbestos to be a human carcinogen roughly 40 years ago.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis. OSHA also states that asbestos exposures as short as a few days have caused mesothelioma, and every occupational asbestos exposure contributes to the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos has been widely used in construction, shipbuilding, and the automotive industry since the 19th century. Without a ban, asbestos remains legal and continues to be mined and used to this day in the U.S. and nearly 70% of the world. As such, there are many people who do not know the effects of asbestos and their risk of workplace exposure. Meanwhile, asbestos has been banned in most industrial nations, such as Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, United Kingdom, etc.
What is the impact of asbestos?
According to the WHO, more than 107,000 people die annually from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures. Of that number, an estimated 15,000 are Americans. One in every three deaths from occupational cancer is estimated to be caused by asbestos, and several thousand deaths can be attributed annually to exposure to asbestos in the living environment. In total, there are approximately 125 million people who are exposed to workplace asbestos globally.
What can companies do to protect workers from asbestos?
There are a variety of controls that companies can put in place to protect its workers from asbestos exposure. Creating and implementing a control program is important if your employees are exposed to asbestos, and organizations must make sure that their control plan complies with the requirements of local regulators. In general, the control plan should address the following:
- Eliminating asbestos use by substituting to a safer material (if possible)
- Modifying facilities, equipment, and processes as needed
- Improving work practices and policies, hygiene practices, awareness tools, and training
- Providing workers with task-specific work instructions that address hazards and necessary controls.
- Providing, using, and maintaining personal protective equipment and clothing for employees
- Monitoring the concentration of airborne asbestos and workers’ exposure by:
- Conducting medical exams and clinical tests for employees (ie. screening chest radiograph, a lung function test, occupational exposure history, and a health questionnaire)
- Tracking personal records to show workers’ exposure to workplace asbestos, including the time-weighted average exposure of workers and of the concentrations of asbestos.
- Removing asbestos waste, and decontaminating workers’ clothes, materials, and areas exposed to asbestos
It’s critical to keep your employees safe from asbestos exposure. However, between implementing controls to mitigate illnesses and fulfilling your job duties, we understand how time-consuming and difficult it can be to balance the two. To help, we suggest organizations consider partnering with an EHSQ software provider to improve the way they manage asbestos exposure.
- Digitize your exposure control plan to make it traceable and accessible across the organization
- Measure workplace and employee exposure levels accurately through sampling and assessments
- Create exposure groups to properly monitor exposed employees
- Maintain employees in exposure group recalls even after a termination date has been recorded to handle lifetime exposure monitoring requirements
- Track and administer medical exams to ensure all employees are medically-approved for work
- Manage and integrate all employees’ medical and exposure data in one place
- Manage personal protective equipment more efficiently
- Train and communicate with workers to educate them on ways to limit exposure
- Create reports to turn data into actionable insight to reduce exposure risks
Questions about asbestos exposure management? Contact one of our certified experts today to see how we can help.