Asbestos is still an occupational health risk in manufacturing, mining, building, maintenance and auto industries.
Types of work that can cause asbestos to become airborne include maintenance, construction, remediation, waste management, and cleaning up damaged or deteriorated asbestos-based materials.
Asbestos is still used in some materials in roofing, shingles, insulation, fire blankets, water pipes, cement pipes, clutches, brake linings, pads, and gaskets.
Despite severe health warnings and considerable hazards, asbestos is still widely used in many developing countries in the African Region, partly due to lack of comprehensive occupational exposure legislation and enforcement policies.
South Africa and Mozambique are two examples of countries in the African Region who have successfully prohibited the use, processing, and manufacturing of asbestos and asbestos-containing products, yet some old material remain in use, and some illegal imports have been found.
Asbestos exposure OH effects
Exposure to asbestos is closely linked to cancer of the lungs, larynx and ovaries, mesothelioma (a form of cancer affecting the inner linings of the lungs) and asbestosis (scarring of the lungs).
Co-exposure to tobacco smoke and asbestos substantially increases the risk of lung cancers.
To prevent exposure and occupational health effects, it is recommended to not engage in any work that can cause asbestos to become airborne.
Asbestos exposure PPE
If such work is required, it should be carried out under strict control measures to avoid direct and secondary exposures. This includes the use of personal protective equipment such as special respirators, safety goggles, protective gloves and clothing, and the provision of hazardous waste facilities for decontamination and disposal.
The burden of asbestos-related diseases is still rising; even in countries that banned the use of asbestos in the early 1990s.This is due to long periods of time between exposures and the resulting development of diseases.
Stopping the use of asbestos now will only result in a decrease in the number of asbestos-related diseases and deaths after several decades.
The World Health Organization’s policy on asbestos is unequivocal, that asbestos-related diseases can and should be prevented.
The most efficient way to prevent direct and secondary exposures to asbestos is to stop the production and use of all forms, including chrysotile, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Asbestos is a severe cancer-causing agent, causing about half of all deaths from occupational-related types of cancer. Currently about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at their workplaces.
Data gaps in Africa on the occupational exposure of asbestos and subsequent asbestos-related disease.
These gaps and competing priorities have prevented many countries from banning the mining, export and use of asbestos and implementing national programmes for elimination of asbestos-related diseases.
Sources; World Health Organisation, WHO. Vibeghana.com.
* See the SA Asbestos Regulations of 2001, under authority of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.