Asbestos Awareness

Asbestos is found in many buildings no matter the sector of economic activity. Building managers, contractors, and health and safety professionals must know all the work scenarios likely to emit asbestos dust. The concentrations of asbestos fibres in the air are regulated by the Quebec Regulation Respecting Occupational Health & Safety.

Before undertaking any asbestos management project it is important to understand all the tasks involved in order to plan a schedule of work that will protect the workers, the occupants, and the costs involved.

In order to carry out a well thought out asbestos management project, many questions must be answered and require a good knowledge of the:

  • Regulations
  • Current state of the conditions present in the location
  • Foreseeable corrective measures or options
  • Costs involved
  • Available internal and external resources

To achieve all of this it is important to obtain training in asbestos.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural fibrous rock. In Quebec, the most commonly used types have been chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite.

Asbestos is fire-resistant and has good heat, sound and electrical insulation properties. For these reasons, a large quantity of asbestos is found in buildings constructed prior to 1980.

What are the health risks?

Asbestos fibers may be released into the air when this friable material is handled. It is when these fibers are breathed in that there may be a health risk. However, when the asbestos containing materials are non-friable, then the risk is much lower.

The health risk increases depending on the number of fibers inhaled and the duration of the exposure period. The asbestos associated illnesses include:

Asbestosis: Pulmonary fibrosis that develops slowly following a fairly intense exposure to asbestos fibers. It is only after some 15 years that the disease can be detected by X-ray.

Lung Cancer: Breathing in asbestos fibers increases the risk of lung cancer, and not only among smokers.

Mesothelioma: A rare but highly malignant cancer. It attacks the lining of the lung (pleura) or the abdomen (peritoneum). The disease manifests itself some 30 or 40 years later, by that time it is too late for treatment.

All three diseases are progressive and irreversible.

What types of workers are at risk?

Workers in these trades: boilermakers, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, welders, wireworkers, computer and telephone cable installers, fire protection mechanics and tinsmiths.

In addition, workers in the demolition, renovation and maintenance sectors may also be exposed to dangerous concentrations of asbestos fibers given the fact that a large number of commercial and residential buildings contain asbestos-based materials.

When are you at risk?

It all depends on the friability of the materials and the type of work that is being done. If the materials are very friable, therefore the fibers can easily be released and then circulate in the air during the work.

If the materials are non-friable, then there is little chance that the fibers will circulate in the air, unless these materials are being sawn, cut, drilled, profiled or have been damaged.

In the event of a risk of exposure to asbestos fibers, the supervisor must:

  • Identify the materials containing asbestos;
  • Determine if they are friable or non-friable;
  • Assess the risks according to the work to be done;
  • Take adequate prevention measures.

What are examples of friable asbestos containing materials?

Examples include: Fireproofing on beams, walls and ceilings, insulation on pipes, wall and ceiling plaster and stucco, flock in ovens, water heaters and refrigeration units, insulation boards for partitions and false ceilings, fire doors and fire resisting divisions, and wire and cable sheathing.

What are examples of non-friable asbestos containing materials?

Examples include: Asbestos cement products like flat or corrugated sheets, tiles or other panels for roofs and facades, drinking water and wastewater pipes and lines, wastes networks, ventilation and stack pipes. Also in other products like glues and mastics, paints, vinyl tiles, asphalt roofing sheets, and asphalt road surfacing materials.

What should be done before undertaking work?

Question Answer
1 Do the materials found in the work area contain asbestos? The supervisor or project manager should be able to provide this information.
2 This information is not available. What must you do? Samples must be taken and analyzed in the laboratory to determine whether asbestos is present and to identify the type of fibers.
3 If the presence of asbestos is confirmed and if the work risks releasing asbestos dust then what must you do? The supervisor or project manager must assess the level of risk associated with the work and take appropriate prevention measures

If necessary, feel free to request the advice from EHS.