April 5, 2018 | Frank MacDonald |

Asbestos is Still a Concern in the Construction Industry

Asbestos is a buzzword in the construction industry, even today despite waning usage in developed countries.

Just recently, subway workers in Buenos Aires went on strike, claiming asbestos was present in the rail cars.

In Australia, union workers say they were exposed to asbestos while working on a project at the Sydney Airport where asbestos-containing material was being broken up and excavated inappropriately.

Anthophyllite asbestos SEM

Despite being declared a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO) and heavy regulations from many countries, asbestos production and use is still legal throughout much of the world.

Canada is among a slowly growing number of countries actively taking steps to ban asbestos and has promised to completely end its use this year.

The federal health and environment departments are both sponsoring a proposed prohibition of the sale, import, export, and use of asbestos in Canada. The prospective regulations reveal that just under 2,000 lung cancer cases and 430 mesothelioma cases in 2011 were due to asbestos.

Canada was once a world leader in asbestos production, even after its use was restricted. For example, Asbestos, Quebec, is a town whose identity was solely based on the Jeffrey asbestos mine.

The facility mined the mineral for more than a century until it was shut down in 2011. Most of Canada’s asbestos was exported to developing countries like Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh.

bauer elementary school

Though progress is being made, asbestos is still a grave concern for construction workers. New development poses much less of a risk, but applications of the mineral in older homes and buildings are likely to be dangerous. Taking safety precautions while working with older homes could be potentially lifesaving.


Asbestos and Its Risks

Extra precaution is necessary when working on an old house, apartment, or commercial building constructed or renovated prior to 1990. Known for its strength and ability to resist high temperatures, asbestos was used heavily throughout most of the 20th century in a wide variety of products and building materials. From insulation and piping to textured paints and spray-on insulation, the fibrous mineral was included in thousands of products and could be hiding anywhere in an older structure.

As we now know, the convenience of asbestos came at a cost. The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people worldwide die of asbestos-related diseases each year.

suited up to remove asbestos

Products containing the mineral are relatively safe when undisturbed but become lethal when disrupted. Inhaling airborne asbestos particles drastically increases your risk of developing mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that occurs when particles become embedded within the lining of the lungs.

Mesothelioma symptoms can take 20 to 50 years to develop following asbestos exposure. Symptoms also mimic those of other illnesses like pneumonia or the flu, making it difficult for doctors to accurately diagnose the cancer in a timely manner.

Once a diagnosis has been made life expectancy is usually poor, as patients are typically given about 12 to 21 months to live. Fewer than 10 percent of patients live past 5 years, making long-term survival extremely rare.

As serious as mesothelioma is, it is almost completely preventable by avoiding asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, certain jobs and industries don’t always allow workers to avoid contact. In those instances, safety is key.


See how a risk assessment can save your employees’ lives.


Preventing Mesothelioma

Awareness and safety are your best lines of defense, especially when working on older structures. Knowing where asbestos may be located and understanding how to handle it properly could be life saving.

Many older structures used asbestos in insulation, patching compounds, caulks, cement siding, roof shingles, under sheeting, and window putty. Pay close attention to furnaces, water heaters, and hot water piping. Old ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring, and floor tiles are also notorious for containing asbestos.

asbestos warnings

If asbestos is found or is believed to be present within the construction site do not hesitate to use proper protective gear moving forward. To avoid skin contact and inhalation, make sure to have a fitted respirator with HEPA filters, a coverall with an attached hood and boots, and a pair of strong working gloves.

Seal off the demolition area and turn off any air conditioning or heaters to prevent dust from circulating. Spray down the asbestos-containing materials with water to prevent flying particles and try to keep pieces whole. All broken pieces should be placed inside leak-proof bags and kept in a sealed cardboard box until taken to a landfill that permits asbestos disposal.

Canada’s asbestos ban is a major step toward keeping construction workers safe and preventing job-related cancer, but the devastating effects of exposure will still be felt for a long time to come.

Even with the ban, we still have a way to go until asbestos is removed from our infrastructure completely. Until then, take extra precaution while working with older homes and buildings. Unless items are labeled as containing asbestos, it may be impossible to know exactly where it’s hiding. If unsure, it is always safer to call an abatement professional in your area.


Looking for More Ways to Stay Safe in the Construction Industry?

Explore The PPE Bible: A Complete Guide to Personal Protective Equipment.

the PPE Bible


About Frank MacDonald