Asbestos is still an occupational health risk

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 becoming airborne from deteriorating building material (Photo; ENSA).
Asbestos becoming airborne from deteriorating building material (Photo; ENSA).

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.

* See the SA Asbestos Regulations of 2001, under authority of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

8 thoughts on “Asbestos is still an occupational health risk

  1. Is there any law or enforceable legal requirement that asbestos roof sheeting already in place on existing buildings, must be removed, or replaced within a certain time from the promulgation of the Asbestos Regulations?
    I have been told by a so-called “specialist” that this is the case. I do not agree and cannot see how this can be reasonably lawfully and legally enforced.

  2. I was told the same thing by a “specialist” and have yet to find any legislation or government notice specifying this.

  3. Why is the specialist in inverted commas? hahaha! Government
    wanted to remove asbestos roofing from the old match box houses,
    but there was a turn around. May due to the cost and level of expertise
    required to remove such roof.

    Currently some communities like in Ekurhuleni are advised to regularly
    paint their roofs and maintain them in good condition.

  4. These days we have too many specialists dishing out advice just to make a fast buck. If a law existed for the removal of asbestos from existing structures, then all homes with asbestos roofs need attention, quite a mammoth task for the private sector and the state (consider all the state buildings and rented homes that have asbestos roofs). Problems arise when asbestos roofs are cleaned with high pressure equipment. The safest route will be to paint the asbestos roof.

  5. this is real a serious issue because where I’m working right now the employer still using Asbestos to the most the buildings I think the is regulation regarding the Asbestos but it does not state be removed and it has never be painted at all.

  6. The Asbestos regulations clearly describes the process for controlling asbestos exposure but does not prohibit its use. The common duty of an employer is to do 2 yearly asbestos mapping of their facilities. This is described in regulation 7 and 14 and the form of record that needs to be kept is required in regulation 16. Employers had 6 months to implement this and should update the document every second year. Employers are also directed how to control exposure in regulation 11.
    Given the OEL limits and considering these with atmospheric contamination, i.e. the release of fibers into the open air from damaged roof sheets, there is almost no risk of exposure to excessive levels. However, the disposal of these materials still need to be done in accordance with all relevant regulations, including the construction regulations. Ideally, the employer should develop an “asbestos phase out plan” for their facilities by gradually substituting asbestos materials with safer options.
    Procedure for maintenance are also described in regulation 15.
    As for the comment on specialists, the regulations also require employers to engage the services of AIA’s for asbestos where uncertainty exists on the asbestos content of any materials.

  7. In response to Brian’s question, the regulation your specialist referred to is the Regulations for the Prohibition of the Use, Manufacturing, Import and Export of Asbestos and Asbestos containing materials 2007 published under the Nature Conservation Act, 1989.

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