Research has shown an association between asbestos exposure and lung cancer and bile duct cancer. The latter is a relatively rare form of cancer affecting the liver, but it is now increasingly being reported in greater numbers around the world. Research suggests that after inhalation or ingestion, asbestos fibers can reach the circulatory system and are then delivered to all organs, including the liver. It is assumed that asbestos fibers are likely to become trapped in smaller bile ducts, leading to tumor formation.
Many countries have banned the import and use of asbestos. For example, the UK banned the import and use of amosite and crocidolite in 1985 (although voluntary industry bans have existed – for example, for crocidolite from 1970) , actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite in 1992 and chrysotile in 1999.
However, many workers can still potentially be exposed by working with older buildings in construction and demolition, shipbuilding trades, and other equipment that used asbestos in their construction.
There are also many countries that still use asbestos in their industries and/or export it. This includes the mining and processing of asbestos, the manufacture of asbestos textiles and other asbestos products, and insulation work in the construction and building trades.
Preventive measures and asbestos removal
Our survey of tradespeople in 2018, conducted as we launched the asbestos phase of our No Time to Lose Against Occupational Cancer campaign, suggests there is still a lot of work to be done.
About a third of respondents (32%) said they had never consulted an asbestos register before starting work on a new site, 15% of them not knowing the requirements of a register. Meanwhile, 18% said if they found asbestos they would be unsure or have no idea what to do.
What can organizations do to eliminate or reduce exposure to their workers or supply chain?
First, develop a policy and strategy for asbestos and asbestos removal. This includes a commitment to manage the risk of working with existing asbestos and to eliminate its use in their operations. Organizations can take additional steps by engaging with their supply chain and encouraging them to also meet their commitment.
Second, identify where the asbestos could be found in the organization and what type it is. This could include investigations by a competent person. It is important to record the results of this identification.
Third, assess the risk of asbestos exposure to the organization’s activities. How do workers interact with it? What tasks do they perform?
Fourth, create a management plan for asbestos found in the workplace.
Finally, identify and operate controls to eliminate or manage worker exposure. This may include avoiding disturbance of materials containing encapsulated asbestos, using specialized equipment to reduce exposure, training workers who interact with asbestos, and reporting incidents related to asbestos. ‘asbestos.
Further information on asbestos management can be found on the IOSH No Time to Lose website at www.notimetolose.org.uk