Many people believe asbestos is a problem of the past. It was once a serious risk, but now it’s done and dusted, so we never have to worry about it again.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Even today, exposure to asbestos remains a hazard in many different industries.

Although many countries, including Canada, have phased out the use of asbestos, the United States has yet to do so. And even in countries where asbestos-containing materials are banned, asbestos can still be found in older buildings, brake pads, and other items that were manufactured before restrictions went into effect.

While it’s true that asbestos is not nearly as common as it once was, exposure to it still carries the same risks.

The Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is made of fibrous material. When those fibers are disturbed, they can become airborne. Once they’re in the air, asbestos particles can be inhaled and make their way into the lungs.

That’s where the real risks come in. Once it’s in the lungs, asbestos will cause irritation, which can result in scarring and other damage. That damage can lead to a number of serious health conditions,¬†including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Those are devastating conditions. So if there’s a chance you might be dealing with asbestos on the job, it’s important that you take every precaution to prevent exposure.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Working with Asbestos

Most people know they should avoid asbestos. But far fewer people know how to be safe when handling it.

Here are some quick tips that will help you limit your exposure to asbestos.

When Dealing with Asbestos, Do

  • Minimize work activities in any area that may contain asbestos. If working there is unavoidable, prioritize the most important tasks so you can get in, get the job done, and get out as soon as possible.
  • Get the right training. The effects of asbestos exposure are serious and will follow you for the rest of your life. If you haven’t been trained in how to deal with asbestos, leave the task to those who have.
  • If you suspect there might be asbestos on the jobsite, bring it up to your supervisor. It is your employer’s responsibility to look into safety concerns and ensure that you’re not putting yourself at risk.
  • Wear the right PPE. Asbestos needs to be kept off your skin, out of your hair, and most importantly, out of your lungs. Anyone dealing with asbestos should have disposable coveralls, gloves, and a suitable respirator.
  • Decontaminate yourself and your tools before leaving the area. Any asbestos particles that cling to your clothes, your hair, or anything you’re carrying out of the jobsite can still harm you – or your family.

When Dealing with Asbestos, Don’t

  • Sweep, dust, or vacuum in the area. These activities can send more asbestos particles into the air, increasing the risk of exposure.
  • Break materials more than is necessary. Materials that are made with asbestos are mostly harmless – until they’re damaged. It’s when they’re scratched, chipped, or broken that the fibers become airborne and pose a risk. So, do your best to limit the damage you do to those materials.
  • Bring anything into the contaminated area. Water bottles, lunch pails, toolbelts, coats or jackets – anything that isn’t essential to doing your job should be left out of the area. Otherwise, they risk becoming contaminated and being another site of potential exposure.
  • Take off any of your PPE before leaving the contaminated area. Even when the job is done, there might still be asbestos in the air and removing your PPE will leave you unprotected.
  • Put yourself at risk. Every employee has the right to refuse unsafe work. If you worry that you might be exposed to asbestos, don’t do the job until you’re certain it’s safe to do so.

Asbestos Is on the Way Out – But It’s Not Gone Yet

Someday, occupational exposure to asbestos will be a thing of the past. In fact, in March of 2024, the EPA announced that the US will finally be phasing out the production and use of asbestos.

However, that ban will take more than a decade to come into full effect. Once it does, we’ll still have plenty of older products, building materials, and car components with asbestos in them.

It’s far too soon to treat asbestos like an outdated occupational hazard. It’s still very much with us and employers and employees need to take every precaution to ensure that no one has to suffer the chronic health effects that come with exposure.

So, wear all the PPE you need. Make sure your respirator is fitted properly. And if you worry that you might be at risk, bring it up to your supervisor.