Asbestos in the Workplace

Asbestos in the Workplace

Thousands of people die every year from asbestos-related illnesses. With the right knowledge and precautions, you and your co-workers can avoid this fate.

Until the health risks associated with asbestos were well understood, it was considered to be a ubiquitous and versatile construction material. Due to its hazardous nature, its use in modern times is limited. However, because asbestos was used in construction, manufacturing, and in the military for so long, there remains a serious risk of exposure for workers in many occupations. Avoiding the dangers of asbestos exposure relies on compliance with safety regulations and guidelines, as well as effective training.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, which was long valued for its strength and heat resistance, making it the material of choice for insulation and fireproofing, until a few decades ago.

To make buildings safer and stronger, builders and engineers added it to the cement underfoot, the ceiling tiles overhead and many other construction materials. It found numerous applications in manufacturing and in the military as well.

Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?

Working with asbestos products causes the release of tiny fibers of the mineral into the air. Once inhaled, these fibers get stuck in the lining of the lungs, causing scarring and inflammation. Eventually, the lungs cells may become so damaged that cancer develops.

One rare type of cancer nearly always linked to asbestos exposure is pleural mesothelioma. Although there is currently no cure, there are several options for treating mesothelioma. Other deadly cancers are linked to asbestos, as well as chronic respiratory illnesses such as asbestosis.

A single massive exposure to asbestos can affect a person quickly, but when a worker is regularly exposed to moderate amounts at contaminated jobsites, noticeable symptoms may not appear until decades later. However, the length of time it takes for disease to manifest has no relation to the severity of the symptoms.

How Are Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

Environmental asbestos exposure occurs near mining sites and when asbestos products deteriorate over time, but most exposure is occupational.

Workers are most at risk when building materials manufactured before the 1990s are cut, drilled, sanded, or pulverized during construction or demolition. Secondhand exposure may then follow when workers come home from the worksite with asbestos on their gear, clothing and/or skin. Individuals must also exercise caution if they choose to carry out their own home renovations.

Factories, refineries, and shipyards often expose workers to asbestos, and asbestos once pervaded military contexts, especially warships, causing many veterans to suffer from the effects of exposure. Asbestos continues to threaten firefighters and other first responders, because buildings and vehicles can release large amounts when destroyed or damaged.

What’s going to Change with Regard to Asbestos Legislation this Year?

Canada aims to ban asbestos, and change the rules and regulations regarding asbestos in 2018. The goal of these changes would be to further protect those at risk from asbestos exposure from asbestos-related illnesses. Many Canadian were unaware that full ban on asbestos did not already exist; however, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to enforcing a full ban in 2018. His ban would also include a registry of structures containing asbestos, so that proper risk mitigation can be enforced if and when those building are renovated or demolished. Asbestos has already been banned all over Europe and in Japan and Australia.

How Can I Avoid Exposure?

Educate yourself about the risks of asbestos exposure in your line of work, and then make sure your employer has policies and procedures in place to evaluate jobsites and prevent exposure.

It is a requirement that all employees who perform work that could disturb asbestos be able to identify potential asbestos containing material, the health risks associated with exposure, and the necessary precautions to be taken when working around asbestos. Our training course is designed for constructors, employers, supervisors and workers involved in building maintenance, repair, or alteration. If you have any questions regarding asbestos in your workplace or health and safety in general, please contact one of our heath and safety experts at 18008159980 for more information or book an on-site evaluation today.

On-Site Asbestos Evaluation


Article written in conjunction with


The Mesothelioma Center at is an advocacy group that assists patients and families suffering from asbestos-related illnesses, such as lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. The Mesothelioma Center provides free informational books, packets and a Patient Advocacy program that works 1-on-1 with individuals to help them find local doctors, treatment centers and support groups.