What is the importance of the Asbestos tab in the Permit to Work (PTW), in OHS Online?
A great question! The Asbestos tab of the PTW must be selected whenever any work processes the contractor does, include the likely exposure to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials to workers or persons in the vicinity of the work being done. This type of work is considered 'high risk' because of the health risk that asbestos dust presents to persons exposed to it.
Asbestos is the collective name for a number of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals which include chrysotile (white asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos), anthophyllite and actinolite. These silicate minerals are resistant to heat and acids, good insulators and have high strength characteristics. They can be separated into thin durable threads which can then be easily woven.
HEALTH ISSUES WITH ASBESTOS
Asbestos by nature crumbles very easily, so, depending on the degree to which it has been binded or the degree to which it has been disturbed, it releases microscopic fibres into the air. These microscopic fibres are easily breathed in and are not soluble, so any fibres breathed into the lungs can remain there for years, causing scarring or inflammation over time and eventually affecting breathing. These health problems can develop into far more serious health concerns, which may take years to develop before they become obvious and include:
1. Asbestosis - a lung disease causing shortness of breath, coughing and permanent lung damage.
2. Lung cancer
3. Mesothelioma - a form of cancer affecting the thin membranes lining the chest and abdomen.
4. Pleural plaques - these are non-malignant (non-cancerous) lesions which form in the lungs.
BANNING OF ASBESTOS
The banning of the use of asbestos began in the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark) in the 1970s and 1980s and spread to other European countries in the 1990s. The European Union banned the use of asbestos in 2005 and in 2008 its use was banned in South Africa.
ASBESTOS IN BUILDINGS
The banning of the use of asbestos in 2008 means any buildings constructed after this date should not contain any asbestos or asbestos containing materials. However, despite its banning, this means that many buildings constructed on or before this date, are likely to include asbestos components or asbestos-containing materials. Typically, these asbestos materials will be present in the following forms, meaning they can be found in numerous different places within a typical commercial or industrial building:
1. Bulk form - this includes asbestos laggings, packing for heat insulation of boilers, pipes, duct, etc and sprayed asbestos onto steel sheets or concrete slabs for building fire protection and noise insulation.
2. Sheeting and boards - this includes asbestos millboard and paper for heat insulation (chimneys, ovens, heaters, etc), surface thermal protection and boards for false ceilings, fire retardant facings, fire doors or dampers and light partitions.
3. Yarns and fabrics - this includes yarn, cord, rope, caulking and lagging material, fabric bands for heat protection, electrical insulating tape and fire resistant, noise insulation or expansion joint seals.
4. Asbestos cement products - this includes flat or corrugated sheets, tiles, slates and other roofing panels, facade cladding sheets, internal partition and false ceiling boards, chimney flues, ventilation ducts, water supply and drainage pipes and fire dampers and fire-retardant panels.
5. Incorporated into various binders - this includes resins, bitumen, floor tiles, flooring adhesives, glazing, textured coatings and paints, roof weatherproofing, bituminous felts, rolls and coverings, leveling and finishing coats for floors and internal partitions, tiling adhesive mortars, plaster-based coatings for fire protection, friction materials such as brake pads for lifts, motors, etc and resin-based electrical insulating components.
The Asbestos tab helps to ensure formal checks are made and associated safety precautions are taken for any work taking place in an asbestos-exposed environment, in order to ensure the work is conducted under safe working conditions. Through these measures, any necessary check measures required to prevent asbestos exposure and to ensure its safe disposal after work is complete, can be made and suitable precautions put into place.