WEB EXCLUSIVE: Should Facility Managers Be Concerned About Asbestos?
This Web exclusive comes from Jensen Whitmer of the Mesothelioma Center.
Asbestos management should always be a priority for any facility manager. If a structure was built before 1980, there is a good chance that it was constructed with asbestos-containing materials.
Instead of hiring an abatement contractor to come in and remove asbestos, many facilities choose to manage it in an attempt to avoid exposure and save money. The cost of asbestos removal can be an expensive process and as long as asbestos containing materials are in good condition, they do not pose health risks to employees.
Maintenance workers are possibly the most at risk for asbestos exposure in facilities that contain asbestos. Through repairs or the installation of new materials, asbestos can be disturbed and workers typically don’t protect themselves to prevent exposure.
Asbestos Health Risks
Many buildings that were constructed with asbestos have since taken steps to remove the hazardous substance. In buildings where asbestos abatement hasn’t taken place, facility managers must make sure there is no risk for exposure.
Friable asbestos, which can be defined as material that is easily crushed by the hand, is what facility managers have to watch for. While asbestos-containing materials may be in good condition upon evaluation, that doesn’t mean they can’t present a hazard in the future.
Any damage or deterioration to asbestos-containing materials can cause asbestos to become airborne. Exposure occurs when airborne fibers are inhaled. Once they enter the body, their jagged-like structure causes them to become lodged in the lining of the lungs. This type of exposure has been linked to several conditions with low survival rates, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Developing An Asbestos Management Plan
If asbestos is present, one of the best things a facility manager can do is design an asbestos management plan. This requires an initial assessment of all asbestos containing materials on site to determine their condition. Such an assessment should be performed by a licensed inspector who is qualified to analyze asbestos.
Another important part of an asbestos management plan is defining policies and procedures to avoid exposure incidents. All employees should be notified of any asbestos containing materials that could pose a risk so that everyone can keep an eye on them. In addition, the plan should:
- Educate employees on how to avoid exposure;
- Provide basic training for handling friable asbestos containing materials;
- Describe which activities could disturb asbestos; and
- Document when asbestos materials are inspected and note any change in condition.
It’s very important for each member of the maintenance staff to be fully aware of any changes made in the asbestos management plan. If additional instruction from a professional is needed for educational purposes, facility managers shouldn’t hesitate to hire someone for a training session.
Whitmer has been writing for the Mesothelioma Center for more than three years and he takes pride in spreading awareness about the hazardous effects of asbestos exposure.