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Do asbestos abatement workers have enough protection on the job?

Asbestos removal is generally not a DIY project. Typically, property owners who are concerned about asbestos are advised to call in the professionals. This is because asbestos abatement professionals should be formally trained and certified in the best techniques for minimizing health risks while removing asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos abatement workers wear three layers of porous polypropylene suits and a respiratory mask. However, this may not be enough to completely protect them from exposure to asbestos.

In what ways do the suits and masks fall short?

The suits are paper-thin and can easily tear while someone is working. They can also be uncomfortably warm during the summer months.

The respiratory masks that workers wear should correspond to the level of contamination at the job site. The options include a half-mask, a full-face mask and a powered air-purifying respirator.

However, the more protection a mask offers, the more difficult it is for the worker to breathe. Some research from the University of Eastern Finland reportedly indicates that some respirators could even lead to heart attacks because of the increased strain they cause on the body.

The suits and respirators may not be able to completely prevent asbestos exposure, but they do help. However, this protective equipment can be a challenge of its own. This leads many asbestos abatement workers to work without it, which only increases their health risks.

What other safety precautions should workers implement?

In addition to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), asbestos abatement workers should be protecting themselves and others by limiting the potential spread of asbestos contamination. Steps that may be necessary include:

  • Removing non-contaminated objects from the work area
  • Securing plastic sheeting on the walls and floor surrounding the work area
  • Installing a three-chambered decontamination unit that includes a working shower
  • Using the decontamination unit when entering and exiting the work area
  • Installing and using a HEPA filter equipped negative air machine to prevent the fibers from leaving the contained work area
  • Using an airless sprayer to keep the asbestos wet while removing it
  • Monitoring air quality with air sample pumps during the asbestos removal process
  • Removing the asbestos-containing material from the work area in sealed plastic bags
  • Properly disposing of the asbestos-containing materials according to state and federal guidelines

Cutting corners can have long-term consequences

Unfortunately, many contractors allow workers to forgo the proper safety precautions if it means the workers will finish the job quicker. This can include letting workers go without the appropriate PPE and allowing or encouraging workers to skip esssential safety steps.

When safety steps, like sealing off the work area, keeping asbestos wet during removal and using the decontamination unit, are skipped, asbestos fibers can find their way into other building areas even outside. People who are not part of the abatement team may not even realize they could be at risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.

Asbestos abatement can be risky work, even under the best circumstances. Property owners who plan to hire asbestos abatement contractors may benefit from verifying that the contractor and workers have the proper credentials and training to perform the work safely.

Workers in this field may benefit from taking all the proper safety precautions every time. They may also benefit from talking with their doctor about appropriate ways to monitor their health. Not everyone exposed to asbestos develops an asbestos-related disease, but generally, the sooner an asbestos-related disease is found, the more options are available to treat it.

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