When people hear or think about asbestos most of them assume it is a problem from the past that has been addressed long ago. The reality, however, is that the vast majority of facilities in operation around the world today still have asbestos in them. Only facilities that have been tested and certified as asbestos-free can safely be assumed to be without this health hazard.
Those facilities that still have asbestos in them have typically had some sort of containment effort made to minimize the risk to those working in the area. While this is good, it still presents an elevated risk. With this in mind, facilities should offer asbestos awareness training in the facility to help ensure employees know what asbestos is, where it may be located in the facility, how to identify dangerous asbestos and more.
While there is no substitute for professional training materials for employees, the following can serve as an introduction to what a facility should offer to employees in regards to asbestos awareness training.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a term used to describe six different minerals that occur in nature and are mined from the earth. Three of the six were commonly used in facilities and other locations, the most common of which is called Chrysotile, followed by Amosite and finally Crocidolite. One of the characteristics of asbestos is that it breaks up into extremely small fibers, which can be up to 700 times thinner than a human hair.
The material is dangerous because as it breaks up the fibers can be released into the air where they can remain for days at a time. If inhaled or otherwise introduced to the body, it can cause irritation and lead to cancer, which is why it is such a dangerous material.
Where can Asbestos Be Found?
Ideally your facility will have a record of exactly where asbestos was used and where it may still be present. Unfortunately, most facilities don’t have this record available. When that is the case, letting employees know what types of materials were commonly made with asbestos is a great idea to help build awareness.
The following are some of the most common areas in a facility where this material may be found:
Wall and/or Ceiling Textures
Insulation (including pipe and boiler insulation)
Floor Tiles (Especially common in 9’’ floor tiles)
Caulk and Cement
There are, of course, many other products and materials that were made using asbestos. Identifying the potential areas for your facility and passing this information on to employees is an important part of awareness training.
Posting Notices of Asbestos
If you know that there is asbestos or there is a high likelihood that it is present, it is best to post notices. The notices should be located near the entrances to the buildings. If you know exactly where asbestos is, posting notices near those areas is also a good idea.
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For example, if you know that the insulation on your pipes is made with asbestos it is a good idea to make pipe marking labels to let people know. This can easily be done if you have a LabelTac printer available in the facility. Creating a label and applying it along the pipe will help ensure that anyone working with or around the pipes can take the proper precautions.
No matter where the asbestos is located you can print off high quality labels to alert people to its presence. This is a very easy and affordable way to help improve people’s awareness of the asbestos and keep them safe in the process.
When is Asbestos Dangerous
Asbestos is primarily dangerous when it is able to be crumbled up, which releases fiber into the air. Once in the air it can be inhaled by people walking through the area, where it can lead to cancer and other health issues.
Training employees to be on the lookout for any items that may be made with asbestos that are cracking, crumbling or breaking is a great start. If they see this type of thing in the facility, they should alert management right away. In addition, wearing breathing masks whenever working in an area where this is present is essential.
Of course, a facility is required to take action to remove and clean up asbestos if it is known to be causing health issues. This would include times where the asbestos is clearly being broken apart and released into the air. Even when it is not breaking apart, however, it is very important to make sure everyone knows when the asbestos is most dangerous and requires extra precautions.
No matter the condition of the material with asbestos in it, or how well it is contained, it can be released when it is being cut into or otherwise worked with. If you are cutting a pipe that is wrapped with asbestos based insulation, for example, employees must be trained to take the proper precautions. This will typically include professional removal and disposal of the insulation before employees work in the area.
Ongoing Training is Essential
Keeping your employees aware of the potential that asbestos is in the area and how they should respond is very important to the overall safety of your facility. When everyone works together to understand the risks and how to minimize them it is possible to ensure that the entire facility is safe for employees and guests who are in the area.
Mandatory asbestos awareness training for all employees, as well as new employees as they come in, is very important for any facility that has not been certified as asbestos-free. If you believe your facility does not contain any asbestos at all, it is a good idea to get certified so you can be absolutely sure. The certification will allow you to be confident of the safety of your facility, or it will allow you to take the proper steps to alert your employees of the potential risk. In either case, it is a smart investment into the company.