Electricians are well aware of the inherent dangers that come with the job and working with electricity. Yet very few know the risk they face from asbestos exposure, which can also be a part of their everyday work (see also our Q&A articles on asbestos risks for Construction Workers, Firefighters, and U.S. Military Veterans).
Electricians will work in a variety of settings, indoor and outside, ranging from private residences and commercial buildings to new construction and older renovations.
Asbestos could be anywhere, and it's often everywhere.
Asbestos is the versatile, naturally occurring mineral that was once so coveted for its ability to resist heat, insulate, and strengthen almost any product mixed with it. Throughout much of the 20th century, it was used in thousands of products, most prominently in the construction industry.
Unfortunately, it is also toxic. Its microscopic fibers can become lodged in the thin lining around the lungs or abdomen, triggering a myriad of serious respiratory health issues, including mesothelioma cancer decades later.
So be aware, and follow this list to make sure you stay safe while doing electrical work.
5 Ways to Avoid Asbestos Exposure
- Learn about asbestos. Asbestos is typically not dangerous if left undisturbed or encapsulated. But once it deteriorates or becomes broken or frayed, it releases microscopic fibers into the air, where they can be unknowingly inhaled or ingested. That’s when the trouble starts, even though you may not see its effects until decades later. Asbestos is a poor conductor of electricity, making it an ideal insulator for electrical boxes, wiring, and outlets. For that reason, electricians need to be sure they can identify it and take the proper steps once they do.
- Know where asbestos might be hiding. The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Asbestos (NESHAP) regulations require owners of commercial buildings to have this information. Get the information you need: the locations of asbestos materials should be determined before any work is done.
- Know the products asbestos is associated with. In an older structure, asbestos could be almost everywhere. It will be found in thermal paper; circuit breakers; electrical cloth; wire insulation; water pipe insulation; caulking and sealants; HVAC ductwork insulation; and wall, ceiling, and floor tiles. An electrician may come in contact with it in any of those places.
- Wear the proper safety equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes guidelines for everyone working with asbestos products. The personal protection equipment includes rubber boots, disposable gloves, respirators, and eye protectors. Just because you don’t see the asbestos, don’t assume it’s not there. Be extra cautious about wearing the proper protective gear.
- Don’t bring anything home by mistake. When the job is done, you are not done when working around asbestos products. Don’t make the mistake of inadvertently exposing your family by bringing home those microscopic fibers. Wet cleanup is important, making sure no fibers become airborne. It could cling to an electrician’s clothes, boots, skin, or hair. Leave the clothes at work or have them laundered. Take a shower before you head home.
Asbestos exposure is not something to mess with. Be vigilant in protecting yourself.
For more information and resources about asbestos exposure for electricians, follow this link.
Another great resource out of the UK that applies to much of the world can be found here.