What are the health effects of asbestos?

AttentionThe human health effects from long-term unsafe asbestos exposure are well documented. Asbestos fibres are easily inhaled and carried into the lower regions of the lung where they can cause fibrotic lung disease (asbestosis) and changes in the lining of the chest cavity (pleura). These diseases can lead to reduced respiratory function and death. Long-term inhalation of asbestos fibres also increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Enlargement of the heart can also occur as an indirect effect from the increased resistance of blood flow through the lungs.

People are more likely to experience asbestos-related disorders if they:

  • are exposed to high concentrations of asbestos;
  • are exposed for longer periods of time, and/or
  • are exposed to asbestos more frequently. .

What are components of an asbestos control program?

A control program is necessary when handling or using asbestos-containing material. The goal is to prevent or minimize the release of airborne asbestos fibres. The employer must make sure that the control plan is developed and implemented according to the requirements for their local government regulations.

In general, the control plan should address

  • Containment of asbestos operations.
  • Controlling of the release of asbestos fibres.
  • The engineering controls, work practices, hygiene practices, and facilities necessary to control the exposure of a worker to asbestos. 
  • Providing workers with task-specific work instructions that address both the hazards and the necessary controls.
  • Providing, using and maintaining appropriate personal protective equipment and clothing.
  • The methods and procedures needed to monitor the concentration of airborne asbestos and the exposure of a worker. 
  • The methods needed to decontaminate workers clothes, etc. 
  • The removal and clean up of asbestos waste and related material.

Where is it possible to find asbestos in the workplace?

If you work maintaining or doing construction in buildings built before 1990, there are many products which may contain asbestos. Public and commercial building owners should keep an inventory of asbestos-containing materials to inform workers, tenants, authorities and contractors. Ask your supervisor whether asbestos is present in your work area. If you are unsure, check with a qualified asbestos removal specialist. Some provinces require specific training and steps to be taken before working with asbestos.

People can be exposed to asbestos when renovation or demolition activities are occurring. Small asbestos fibres can be released into the air when the following materials contain asbestos:

  • Disturbing or removing insulation including insulation around hot water pipes and tanks.
  • Removing or disturbing roofing shingles and felt or siding. 
  • Sanding, breaking apart or scraping vinyl asbestos floor tiles.
  • Breaking apart soundproofing ceiling tiles. 
  • Sanding or disturbing plaster, including acoustical plaster.

  • Sawing, drilling or smoothing rough edges of materials.

  • Sanding or scraping older surface treatments, such as roofing compounds (including tar paper), spackling, sealants, paint, putty, caulking or drywall.

  • Replacing some car parts such as brakes or transmission clutches. Check with your parts supplier to find out if any replacement parts contain asbestos.

Any damage to materials containing asbestos should be reported to the appropriate authority, such as your occupational health and safety professional.

If asbestos is found while renovating in the workplace, hire a qualified asbestos removal specialist to dispose of the asbestos materials before beginning any other work. Do not disturb asbestos materials yourself. This action increases the risk of exposure.