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asbestos - to use or not to use

Asbestos – To Use or Not to Use, that is the Question

Asbestos is a fibrous material that became popular in the building industry in the early 1900’s. It occurs naturally and helps to create products that are extremely durable and resistant to corrosion and weathering.  These attributes, coupled with the fact that asbestos was an affordable option, meant that the rate of use increased significantly. Despite its excellent properties, it has become known that exposure to asbestos is a severe health hazard, and it is now declared to be responsible for thousands of deaths each year globally.

So where is asbestos found? Asbestos fibres are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric to create materials that are resistant to fire and heat. It also makes an ideal reinforcement component in glues, mortars and finishing cements. It can be found in roofs, gutters, pipe coverings, insulation boards, ceiling tiles, sprayed coatings and many other products. In addition, it is not uncommon to find asbestos in a friable form such as in loose insulation material found in roof cavities for the purpose of insulation.

Studies have shown that these products, if in sound condition and left undisturbed, will not pose any serious health risk.  If they remain fully intact, then it is generally safe and there is no need to remove them.  Asbestos is at its most harmful when the microscopic fibres are dispersed into the air.  These fibres can be easily inhaled by those in close proximity.

The affects that asbestos can have on one’s health can be devastating. Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.  Mesothelioma occurs when inhaled asbestos fibres lodge in the outer tissue linings of the lung and abdomen. Over time, asbestos inflammation on the surface of these membranes can cause scar tissue plaques and a cancer known as mesothelioma. The risk increases proportionally to the number of fibres inhaled and often those affected have been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time.  Symptoms for these conditions often do not appear until 20-30 years after first exposure.

Any bonded asbestos material that is broken or damaged needs to be removed safely. Work that might release the fibres of asbestos containing material can cause a serious health hazard and it is therefore essential to ensure safety around this harmful substance at all times.

Protecting oneself from the harmful effects of asbestos, especially while building, is essential. Ensure that you are familiar with all the material being used on a project and get any material that you are unsure of inspected prior to use. If any materials which are damaged or broken are thought to possibly contain asbestos, the following short-term precautions may be put in place:

1. Spray with water to prevent soil/dust from becoming airborne
2. Cover with a tarpaulin or plastic sheeting
3. Prevent access to the site by children and pets
4. Use wet clean up procedures rather than dry sweeping or vacuuming

Only those who have been trained to work with asbestos removal and have the correct safety equipment are authorised to remove it. Any work such as drilling, cutting, high pressure cleaning or demolition needs to be carried out by an approved asbestos contractor.

Asbestos use is regulated in South Africa by The South African Department of Labour, as well as The Occupational Hygiene Section of the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH). The South African Department of Labour Asbestos Regulations (No.155 of 2002) prohibit an employer or a self-employed individual from carrying out work that will put any person at risk from asbestos exposure, while the NIOH provides a comprehensive range of asbestos-related services and advice throughout Southern Africa, including consultation, training, asbestos surveys, monitoring and evaluation. While still possible to use in building, asbestos remains a hazardous form of material and every precaution therefore needs to be taken when being used.

Andre Ter Moshuizen Estate Agent

082 602 1367 | andre@norgarb.co.za

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