There was a time when the harmful effects of asbestos were not yet appreciated. However, it is now well-understood that exposure to asbestos can result in many harmful health outcomes, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Many employers have acted responsibly, as they should, to protect employees.
Unfortunately, it is now known that some employers, for many years after learning about the harmful effects of asbestos, continued to hide these dangers from employees. Lawsuits have played a major role in holding these wrongdoers responsible for their actions.
Additionally, both national and state legislation, along with the actions of responsible employers, have evolved to provide workers with important protections from the dangers of asbestos, including asbestos abatement and asbestos awareness training. While we are not aware of specific statistics on the issue, common sense dictates that these steps have been instrumental in making many workplaces safer for employees.
An Asbestos Refresher
In its natural state, asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is not necessarily dangerous. The danger occurs when asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled. This often happens when the asbestos is disturbed, such as by sawing, drilling, sanding and other actions.
Because asbestos is durable and heat-resistant, it has been popular for use in homes, commercial buildings, ships, automobiles, and many other products. Although many past uses have been banned, some uses are still permitted. Moreover, asbestos remains in some places where it was used prior to the ban. For example, older buildings may contain products which contain asbestos.
What Is “Asbestos Abatement,” And Why Is It Necessary?
“Asbestos Abatement” refers to the processes or procedures designed to deal with the remaining asbestos. When considering asbestos abatement, a variety of outcomes might be considered. For example, think about an older building that has asbestos in the ceiling or on the walls. The following are some of the possibilities for addressing the asbestos concerns:
- Do nothing: In some instances, it might be determined that the asbestos is not being disturbed, is not being dislodged, and is not creating fibers which can be inhaled. In such circumstances, a decision to do nothing may be made. However, under these circumstances, it is wise to train employees to avoid the area and to take no action to disturb the asbestos, such as drilling or sawing.
- Asbestos removal: In many cases, asbestos is removed from a building. This procedure requires trained personnel, who must exercise extreme caution for their own safety and the safety of others. Often, users of the building must be temporarily moved until the asbestos removal process is completed.
- Asbestos encapsulation: In some instances, rather than removing the asbestos, it can be encapsulated in a way that it is kept in a confined area. Again, it is important to ensure that the remaining asbestos is not disturbed.
Asbestos Awareness Training
Asbestos awareness training is imperative for anyone working with asbestos. Some employees work directly with the mineral and must take extreme precautions. Other examples of employees who may come in contact with asbestos include custodial staff and maintenance workers who work in buildings containing asbestos.
While voluntary training is a wonderful benefit to any employee, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require asbestos awareness training in numerous circumstances. For example, all custodial and maintenance workers at schools who perform activities that might disturb asbestos must receive specified types of training.
The law defines many other types of workers who are similarly required to receive asbestos awareness training. The type and length of training are determined in part by the type of work and the level of asbestos exposure. The Department of Environmental Quality provides resources about asbestos in the workplace and beyond in the state of Oregon.
Call Us with Your Questions
At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we applaud the steps taken by the government and by responsible employers to protect employees from the harsh dangers of asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, we also recognize that some employers have not taken the steps required by law to provide necessary training and protection to employees. Such employers must be held accountable under the law. If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos and have questions, please call us for a free consultation.