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What Is Asbestos? Your Guide to Asbestos Workplace Safety

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on October 1, 2020 at 5:05 PM

Many of us have heard of asbestos in contexts implying that it’s quite dangerous. Even so, most people don’t know what asbestos actually is and wouldn’t be able to recognize it on-sight.

However, asbestos is quite dangerous and it can result in serious health issues if your employees don’t know how to protect themselves.

What is asbestos, and how can your employees keep themselves safe? Here’s a quick overview for your EHS team to share.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos isn’t technically a material, but rather a commercial and legal term referring to a class of minerals that naturally form long, thin, strong fibers. These particular minerals are a group of silicate minerals with the following features in common:

  • Thin, fibrous crystals that are easy to break and manipulate
  • Resistance to fire, heat, and electricity
  • Sound absorption

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) classifies the asbestiform varieties of the following minerals as asbestos:

  • Chrysotile (white asbestos, the most commonly-used variety)
  • Amosite (brown asbestos, often used in cement sheets and pipe insulation)
  • Crocidolite (blue asbestos, formerly used to insulate steam engines)
  • Anthrophylite (used in limited quantities for insulation and construction materials)
  • Tremolite and actinolite (not used commercially but can be found as contaminants in chrysotile asbestos, talc, and vermiculite.

While some forms of asbestos are more hazardous than others, all are dangerous for human health.

Why Is Asbestos Hazardous?

The risk of asbestos-related disease depends on several factors, including:

  • How much asbestos is present
  • How often the exposure occurs
  • How long the exposure is
  • How much time has passed since exposure began
  • Whether the victim has pre-existing lung conditions
  • Whether the victim smokes

However, any amount of asbestos exposure can pose health risks. The health issues attached to asbestos come from breathing in asbestos fibers, which can get stuck in the lungs and cause irritation in the lung tissues.

Asbestos has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the membrane covering the lungs and chest cavity, the membrane lining the abdominal cavity, or membranes protecting other organs). It has also been shown to cause several non-cancer-related diseases, including asbestosis and pleural disease.

Asbestos used to be quite common as a building material, though its use is highly regulated now, and the US no longer mines asbestos. That said, asbestos fibers may be released into the air during construction or demolition work, remodeling, product use, home maintenance, or home repair – essentially, any activity that would disturb the asbestos fibers and release them into the air.

Keeping Your Workers Safe from Exposure

What is asbestos? Generally speaking, it’s a building material, and that means that construction workers are usually the ones at the greatest risk of harm from asbestos fibers. Of course, if your EHS team is responsible for construction crews, you already have your work cut out for you. That’s why we developed safety software tailored for the construction industry – so that you can quickly and easily respond to your biggest safety threats.

Want to see our software in action? Get in touch today to learn more.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Safety Management, Building Materials & Construction

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