Mesothelioma Awareness Day takes place on September 26th every year. The day was established to bring more attention, awareness and research to this type of cancer.
The mineral known as asbestos has been a longtime danger to those working in a variety of fields. The use of asbestos in Canada dates back to the 1800s when the first asbestos mine was opened. Asbestos was used for decades in many building materials and products until the 1980s, when doctors and researchers began to strongly connect asbestos exposure to illness and cancer. In 2018, asbestos was finally banned in Canada, but there was already an infrastructure of the material built into homes, office buildings, and other structures. While no new asbestos can find its way into products and materials, people could still be at risk of exposure at work or in their homes.
Those who come into contact with an asbestos-containing materials will run some risk of exposure, but asbestos becomes most dangerous when it is broken down into an inhalable fibrous material. Exposure is most common while on the job, and around 70 percent of all asbestos-related cancer cases are linked back to occupational causes. Industrial workers, construction workers, mechanics, and first responders are the most likely to be affected by an asbestos-related disease due to an incident at work. These diseases can often be deadly, leading to mesothelioma and cancers of the lung, esophagus and kidneys.
This exposure often happens on accident, during demolition or construction projects that uncover asbestos fibers. Despite the hazard, there are ways that managers and team leaders can diminish these workplace dangers. By training workers to recognize a potential airborne threat, leaders can reduce the number of workers exposed to asbestos. Empowering managers and team leaders to inform their workers can also help keep companies out of legal trouble while prioritizing safety.
How to Identify Asbestos
Since asbestos fibers are extremely small and in many cases difficult to recognize, it’s important to know what materials and products may contain the mineral. Buildings and homes constructed between the 1940s and the 1990s are more likely to contain asbestos than those built after 1990. When managing a construction team that is working on an older structure, leaders will want to know when the building was constructed or last renovated. Older homes should be inspected or abated before a project begins to avoid an unexpected risk.
It’s also helpful to know in what year a product was manufactured. If there is a manufacturer’s label, you can check the label and look the company up online to see if they incorporate asbestos into their product. Insulation is a common product that contains asbestos and is cited as one of the most frequent perpetrators, but it also can be often found in floor and ceiling tiles. If the product was manufactured before the 1990s, there is a higher chance that it’s an asbestos-containing material. At its peak, asbestos was used in around 3,000 products, so coming across a product that contains asbestos could still be plausible in the workplace. Inspectors and asbestos professionals are great resources if there is a concern, and samples can be tested to confirm the existence of the carcinogen.
Choosing an Abatement Professional
If you do have an asbestos issue, it’s crucial to hire a professional that knows how to remove or seal the fibers. In Ontario, there are strict stipulations that asbestos removal companies must follow in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Those who work in the abatement field are trained to remove the toxic substance safely. Having your team attempt to remove the asbestos themselves is prohibited and extremely dangerous, and could make employers liable to government penalties and legal action.
The abatement process consists of inspectors taking samples of the intended area and sending them to a lab to be analyzed. If asbestos is detected, a team of professionals will decontaminate the area, seal any openings and disable HVAC and electrical systems to prevent fibers from passing into air ducts. From there the team would wet down the materials in question and clean up using a HEPA vacuum. In an area where asbestos may be present, signs and warnings must be hung up to avoid any bystanders from exposure.
When the Canadian government announced a plan to end the use of asbestos in the country, it was a great step forward. As time moves forward, the hope is that there will be fewer and fewer instances of asbestos-related disease, but that only happens with the continued safe removal of the toxic material from our buildings and homes. To decrease instances of disease, leaders in the fields of construction, demolition, and industrial work should be taking the necessary steps to protect those who are most vulnerable to exposure.
Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center