Asbestos is a type of silicate that was often used for electrical or fire insulation before the 1990s, but has since been deemed a health hazard. Although asbestos is no longer in use, many older buildings may still have asbestos present in their construction. If you suspect the presence of asbestos in your workplace, take steps to ensure that you and your coworkers stay safe.
1) Contact Your Employer
If there is a risk of asbestos exposure in your job, your employer should inform you upon hire and provide safety gear and training. That said, asbestos isn’t always recognized immediately. If you work for a construction or maintenance company, you may come across asbestos that your employer didn’t know about. If you suspect that there is asbestos, let your employer know as soon as possible. They are responsible for keeping both you and the public safe from exposure, and will be able to take immediate steps to resolve the situation. Whatever you do, don’t try to keep working on your own; even a small exposure to asbestos could cause serious medical problems.
2) Stop Construction
Asbestos is dangerous because of how easily it moves through the air. Asbestos breaks into small fibers which can be swept up and inhaled, causing lung damage. Many buildings built before 1990 may have asbestos in the walls but can also still be safe to work in; because the asbestos is immobile, it doesn’t pose a risk. Improperly planned construction or maintenance projects can expose asbestos and knock it into the air, causing contamination.
If you have found asbestos in a building you are working on, stop construction and move people out of that area. Disturbing the asbestos further will increase the risk of exposure. Wait to start construction again until either you or another employee has the proper training and safety gear needed to proceed.
3) Speak to Your Doctor
If you think you have come into contact with asbestos, you should go to your doctor for a checkup. Asbestos won’t harm you if you touch it, but it can cause serious lung damage if inhaled. Signs that you may have been exposed include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, difficulty swallowing, and swelling in the face or neck. Some of these symptoms may occur years after the actual exposure, after which time it may be too late for treatment. To be safe, get a checkup immediately after you think you’ve been exposed. Your physician will be able to test you for exposure; if you have been exposed, they can take steps to keep you from experiencing serious health issues.
4) Get Safety Training
Even if there isn’t asbestos in your workplace, it’s still smart to be prepared for future incidents. This is especially true if you work in any kind of construction or maintenance field. The three kinds of asbestos training include awareness training for normal employees; special operations training for employees who consistently come into contact with asbestos; and abatement worker training for asbestos removal specialists. Awareness training is a good idea for any employee; knowing what asbestos looks like and what to do if you spot it can help keep you and your coworkers safe.
5) Wear Protective Gear
Your employer is responsible for providing personal protective equipment and training you to use it. Asbestos protective equipment often includes a respirator, safety goggles, gloves, and coveralls. Although asbestos is only dangerous if it is inhaled, small fibers can stick to your clothes and follow you to a different location. This is why many asbestos professionals wear a full-body suit before entering a contaminated environment. At the most minimal level, you will need a respirator mask, gloves, and a post-exposure shower. Don’t go near asbestos without protective gear; even a small exposure can be incredibly dangerous.
6) Ask Your Employer to Conduct a Test
The only way to know for sure if there is asbestos in your workplace is to pay for a professional audit. If you suspect the presence of asbestos, ask your employer to have the area audited as soon as possible; until the test is performed, it may not be safe to continue work. Professional asbestos officers will take samples, assess the health risk, and instruct your employer on further actions. If the building structure was build prior to 1990, the Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Legislation requires your employer to conduct an inspection once every 5 years or any time the building condition changes. Don’t be afraid to remind your employer of this requirement; the safety of your entire workplace could be at risk.
7) Know Your Rights
If you are an employee, your employer is responsible for your safety in the workplace. This includes providing you with training, protective equipment, warning signs, and even medical examinations. Your legal rights may vary depending on your region; contact your local workplace health and safety organization to learn exactly what your rights are and how to maintain your safety. If you stay up to date with your local law, you can help ensure that you and your coworkers are properly protected in case asbestos is found.
The presence of asbestos in your workplace can be a very serious matter. Contact your employer immediately, move out of the contaminated area, and wait for a professional to assess the situation. Never try to clear asbestos on your own; even if you don’t come into contact with it, someone else might. Threshold Environmental Services offers asbestos site audits, surveys, air monitoring, and management plans. Find out more about their services and request an audit at http://thresholdenv.com.au/asbestos-testing-brisbane/.