Asbestos Hazards in the Demolition Industry


The demolition process poses a variety of on-the-job issues workers have to contend with, including unplanned structure collapses and falling objects. However, exposure to carcinogens can be an overlooked threat, especially without engineering controls and responsible disposal measures in place. Asbestos is one of the most concerning carcinogens found on the job, as fibers easily become airborne when products containing it are damaged. But how can we identify asbestos, what risks are associated with the mineral and how do we protect ourselves from exposure?


A Crucial Building Component


For several decades during the 1900s, asbestos was heavily used as a fortification material in many different applications, including insulation, roofing, and flooring. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring silicate mineral, and possesses many properties deemed desirable by builders, including fire-resistance and relative affordability. During the early 1970s, at its height the United States consumed more than 700,000 tons of the mineral. It could also be found in an array of consumer products, such as children’s toys, brake pads, and cosmetics. However, people who worked closely with asbestos began to exhibit signs of severe illness, typically decades after initial contact. As more people became ill, the federal government began regulating asbestos as well as studying the mineral’s impact on human health.


A Rare, Severe Cancer


Workers complained of a number of symptoms, including chest tightness, fluid buildup in the lungs, and shortness of breath. Doctors eventually concluded that these workers were suffering from mesothelioma, a grave disease caused by direct exposure of asbestos. The cancer may develop when airborne asbestos particles from dilapidated or disrupted materials containing the mineral are inhaled or ingested. These particles become lodged in the body (generally in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart) and, after several decades, can result in mesothelioma. Prognosis is often very poor, with most patients given a life expectancy of just 12-21 months after diagnosis. Treatment regimens can include surgery and radiation, although several emerging therapies, such as immunotherapy, have shown promise in clinical trials.


How to Stay Safe


One of the most important tools every worker should have is knowledge; both about the worksite and what dangers might be lurking around the corner. Adhering to proper protocols, including following engineering surveys and health hazard assessments, should be practiced no matter how small or large the job is. Furthermore, using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can prevent respiratory hazards and chemical exposure from occurring, especially during rubbish removal. Exposure can happen when asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are improperly disposed of in dumpsters or other trash receptacles, so proper disposal adherence based on municipality standards should always be followed. By sticking to these practices, workers can enjoy a healthy and productive jobsite.

Posted on July 24, 2018 in