Asbestos includes minerals belonging to the class of fibrous silicates, such as actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, chrysotile and tremolite.
Of these, crocidolite, chrysotile, amosite and actinolite have been identified as carcinogens of category 1 with the hazard symbol (GHS08, H350, Carc. 1A).
Asbestos fibres are hazardous to health when inhaled as dust, contributing to the development of lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestos fibres that enter the gastrointestinal tract can cause throat, stomach, small intestine or large intestine cancer. Because asbestos causes tumours and the process of tumour formation is long, it is estimated that it can take up to 30 years from a person's first exposure to a cancer agent until the disease has fully developed.
Asbestos can be found in:
- roofs (asbestos cement, roofing felt and tiles);
- walls (asbestos cement, asbestos cement tiles and panels);
- ceilings (asbestos cement tiles, sprayed asbestos, thermal insulation materials);
- the facades of buildings (exterior cladding, balcony railings, rain deflectors);
- window tiles;
- garbage chutes (asbestos cement);
- ventilation ducts (asbestos cement, seals);
- water and sewage pipes (pipes, couplings);
- electrical installations (cable ducts, insulating tapes, asbestos cardboard);
- heating equipment (thermal insulation and fire protection materials for boilers, pipes, stoves, cookers);
- floor tiles (vinyl asbestos tiles);
- the foundation (waterproofing);
- lifts (shafts, brakes);
- in metal structures (sprayed asbestos).
Asbestos is fire and weather resistant, has poor thermal, electrical and noise conductivity, relatively high tensile strength, is flexible and is resistant to bases and acids. Due to these properties, this material has been considered indispensable for many years in several industries. Asbestos has been used in industry as a thermal insulation material, in the composition of fireproof building constructions, for noise attenuation, in asbestos cement products (asbestos cement, sewerage and drainage pipes, etc.), in electrical insulation materials and in many other places. When handling asbestos and products containing it, asbestos dust is released into the environment, which due to its physical nature remains suspended in the air (does not precipitate) and constitutes particularly dangerous air pollution.
Asbestos work includes the demolition, reconstruction, repair or maintenance of a building containing asbestos, including the removal of asbestos from the building, machinery, equipment or ship and the collection, and preparation, removal and disposal of asbestos waste at the workplace.
Asbestos waste is handled in accordance with the Regulation of the Minister of the Environment ‘Requirements for the Management of Waste Containing Asbestos’.
The most important requirements for asbestos work are the following:
- Before starting work, the employer must find out whether the building to be demolished, reconstructed, repaired or maintained may contain asbestos and documents the results of the mapping. If the asbestos content is confirmed, the construction work will be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the asbestos work.
- Prior to any asbestos work, the employer must assess the nature, extent, duration and resulting risk to workers' health by carrying out a risk assessment and take appropriate preventive measures.
- The employer is required to notify the Labour Inspectorate in writing at least seven days before the commencement of asbestos work.
- Before starting demolition or removal work, the employer must draw up a written work plan. The work plan must include:
- a diagram of the workplace with an indication of the location of the equipment, including the asbestos waste container;
- the locations of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials and the expected amount in the object to be demolished (asbestos mapping);
- brief descriptions of work methods, including preparatory work;
- measures to prevent the spread of asbestos dust;
- the names of the personal protective equipment provided to workers;
- measures to clean the workplace of asbestos waste and dust;
- the organisation of the transport of asbestos waste and the name of the landfill;
- the time of asbestos mapping and the name of the mapper.
- The content of asbestos fibres in the workplace air is measured when it is necessary to make sure that the workplace air does not contain asbestos (air quality control) or to ensure that the content of asbestos in the inhaled air does not exceed the limit value. Measurements of asbestos fibres in the air at the workplace or studies of the asbestos content of materials can be carried out by an accredited measuring laboratory.
- The employer shall organise training for asbestos workers with a duration of at least eight hours before starting work for the first time, the obligatory topics of which are:
- the harmful effects of asbestos and the factors which increase the risk of damage to health, including smoking;
- types of products and materials containing asbestos, their identification;
- activities which may involve exposure to asbestos dust;
- planning asbestos work and drawing up a work plan;
- instructions for action in the event of unexpected discovery of or damage to asbestos-containing materials in the course of work;
- safe working methods, protective equipment, safety signs used;
- the purpose, range, selection and use of respiratory protective equipment;
- hygiene requirements for asbestos work;
- waste disposal;
- procedure for medical examinations;
- demolition and asbestos removal techniques, with practical exercises if necessary.
- The employer shall arrange a medical examination for asbestos workers at an occupational health doctor before the onset of exposure to asbestos and thereafter at a time indicated by the occupational health doctor. The obligatory examinations for the health check are a clinical examination of the chest (X-ray examination) and a functional diagnostic examination of the lungs (spirography).
- The employer must keep a list of workers exposed to asbestos, including the name, personal identification number, description of work duties and duration of each asbestos exposure for each worker. This list can be an important document if a patient is suspected of having asbestosis or another disease caused by asbestos exposure. The employer must keep the list for at least 40 years after the last exposure of the worker to asbestos.
Important activities that both the employer and the employees must be able to do:
- assess the risk of asbestos before starting work;
- implement the most effective safety measures in the existence of asbestos;
- use safe work methods;
- use and maintain personal protective equipment;
- handle asbestos waste;
- know the asbestos content of the air and the established exposure limit value.
Reducing health risks
Asbestos work must be carried out in such a way that the worker's exposure to asbestos dust is kept to a minimum and remains below the limit value. To reduce exposure:
- limit the number of workers exposed to asbestos;
- work is carried out in such a way that asbestos or materials containing asbestos are removed from a building or other object before demolition begins, unless this activity increases the risk of workers being exposed to asbestos;
- when demolishing a structure containing brittle asbestos or removing the asbestos, the area of exposure to the asbestos is separated from the surrounding environment by a negatively pressurised hermetic zone;
- asbestos work must be carried out in such a way that asbestos dust is not released into the air. If the formation of dust cannot be avoided, the workplace must be separated from the rest of the working environment and local extraction system of sufficient capacity must be used;
- prevent the transfer of asbestos from the workplace to another place by workers' clothing or otherwise;
- using exposure reduction equipment, including air cleaners;
- asbestos and asbestos-containing materials are stored and transported in closed packaging;
- all rooms or equipment that involve asbestos work are regularly cleaned and maintained.
Low-risk asbestos work
Low-risk work is defined as work in which workers' exposure to asbestos does not exceed the established limit value of 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre of inhaled air (100,000 fibres per m3) measured or calculated as a weighted average over an eight-hour exposure period.
Examples of low-risk work include short-term activities of less than four hours that handle non-brittle materials outdoors; disposal of non-degradable materials or products in which the asbestos fibres are bound together in a dense structure (asbestos cement products); the sealing or coating of asbestos-containing materials in good condition and the collection of analyses to check the composition of the air or to determine the asbestos content of the material. In the case of low-risk work, the employer does not have to notify the Labour Inspectorate of the commencement of work or prepare an asbestos work plan.