Construction work is one of the most at-risk occupations for asbestos exposure. Prior to the 1990s, asbestos was used in thousands of construction materials such as insulation, roofing, flooring, concrete and drywall.

As asbestos-containing materials (ACM) age, they deteriorate and become friable, meaning they easily crumble with light pressure. When ACM becomes friable, it is more likely to release asbestos fibers.

Construction workers can avoid asbestos exposure by learning more about the jobsites they work, taking a safety course, using proper protection and safety protocols, limiting dust disturbance, and using the ‘wet method’ to limit fiber circulation.

1. Know If the Jobsite Contains Asbestos

Most of the construction work that presents an asbestos exposure risk today involves demolition and renovation. Previously installed building materials are more likely to contain asbestos than new construction materials, with the exception of roofing products.

Building owners and homeowners are often the only source to turn to regarding the presence of asbestos in a structure. Owners are responsible for identifying ACM and notifying anyone who will work on the building. There are no databases tracking which buildings contain asbestos. To protect yourself against exposure, contact the building owner to inquire about ACM.

2. Take an Asbestos Safety Course

Employers are required to offer a free asbestos training program for all employees who work on jobsites where there is asbestos. These courses teach workers how to avoid asbestos exposure and include the following information:

  • How to identify asbestos materials
  • Actions that contribute to asbestos exposure
  • How to use respirators
  • Protocols for preventing asbestos exposure on the job
  • Potential health effects of asbestos exposure
  • Requirements of medical surveillance programs
  • Increased risk of lung cancer for smokers exposed to asbestos
  • Contact information for smoking cessation programs

Education is protection when it comes to asbestos exposure. Learn all you can about preventing exposure to protect yourself and your family.

3. Use a HEPA-Filter Mask and Vacuum

A HEPA-filter mask is the best protection against inhaling asbestos fibers. Employers are required to provide these masks to employees who work around asbestos. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters can trap 99.97 percent of fibers as small as 0.3 micrometers in diameter. When used properly, these filters capture the majority of asbestos fibers.

Certain asbestos jobs require local exhaust ventilation with HEPA-filter dust collection systems to capture as many asbestos fibers as possible. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters are required to clean up asbestos debris and dust.

4. Avoid Practices That Disturb Dust

Certain work practices contribute to the release of asbestos fibers and they’re prohibited from use on asbestos-related jobs.

Some of these practices include:

  • Use of saws not fitted with a point-of-cut ventilator or HEPA-filtered exhaust
  • Using compressed air to remove asbestos-containing materials
  • Any dry cleanup of asbestos debris or dust, such as dry sweeping or shovelling
  • Making employees work extended hours on asbestos jobsites

5. Use the Wet Method

To help prevent the release of asbestos fibers, wet the ACM first and continually apply water as you work with the material. Keeping debris and dust wet is important for containing the asbestos material to one area.

There are some jobs that involve electricity, which inhibit use of the wet method. Other prevention and safety measures are important to use when the wet method isn’t feasible.

Construction workers can avoid asbestos exposure with skills including knowing how to identify ACM and how to prevent spread of fibers. Safety measures will protect workers and prevent their family members from unnecessary exposure.