Asbestos at work

Source: National Health and Safety CUPE

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was widely used in building materials because of its resistance to heat and corrosive chemicals. Although there are six varieties of asbestos fibers, there are three main types: chrysotile fibers, amosites and crocidolite. Asbestos is usually in the form of a whitish fibrous material. The texture of the fiber can vary from coarse to silky. Although they may be too tiny to see with the naked eye, the fibers are in the air can cause cancer and lung disease.

Where do we use asbestos?

Because of its resistance to heat, asbestos was woven, shaped and sprayed. It was used in the manufacture of at least 3000 products, brake linings to covers ironing boards and toys for children. Asbestos was widely used after World War II until the early 1970s as flame retardant on the ceilings and beams, as insulation for boilers and pipes, spray in ventilation systems and cavities the brake linings and clutches for cars and trucks, and it was added to the coating materials sprayed walls. Asbestos was also used in building materials such as vinyl floor tiles and ceiling tiles. It has also been added to strengthen the cement used in the manufacture of pipes, asphalt and other artifacts.

Who is exposed to asbestos?

The use of asbestos is so widespread that anyone who works in a building or in a place where asbestos was used and is now at the stage of deterioration is likely to contract a disease related to asbestos. It can be CUPE members who work in schools, hospitals and libraries, most were built when asbestos was used strong, between 1945 and the early 1970s. Because of the aging process, asbestos applied to many places began to flake and deteriorate thereby releasing into the air dangerous fibers. In addition to aging, water damage, improper maintenance or removal of poorly made products can release asbestos fibers that can cause cancer and lung disease when inhaled or swallowed. Although many CUPE members can be exposed in schools, hospitals and libraries, other people may be working directly with asbestos as the following:

  • The maintenance staff and caretakers can often unknowingly, clean places where asbestos. You can ask them to remove or repair of materials that contain asbestos as insulation of pipes and boilers, tile floors and ceilings and walls;
  • The éboueuses and scavengers may be exposed if asbestos is removed from buildings is not properly disposed of;
  • The mechanics and mechanics who repair and replace brakes, clutches and transmissions can be exposed when asbestos dust is spread in the air;
  • Carpenters, men and women, can be exposed when sawing, sand, or remove percent of building materials that contain asbestos fibers dispersed in the air;
  • The plumbers, pipe fitters and electricians, men and women;
  • The families and friends of these workers may be exposed if the dust and asbestos fibers deposited on their clothes are brought home.

Hazards associated with exposure to asbestos

When air containing asbestos dust is inhaled, small sharp fibers, similar to the barbed deep into lung tissue and other organs where they remain throughout life. Over time, they can cause fatal diseases. It is known that inhalation of small amounts of invisible asbestos fibers can cause cancer 20 to 30 years after exposure.

Effects of exposure to asbestos

Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis and cancer. Asbestosis is an irreversible lung disease that produces scarring of the lung tissue. As extends the healing tissue, lung loses its flexibility and breathing becomes more difficult. Loss of lung function often leads to disability and death.

It is also known that asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated almost exclusively to exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma develops in the thin membrane that covers the lungs and abdomen. This type of cancer can not be made and it is always fatal.

Exposure to asbestos can also cause other cancers. Workers to asbestos have a higher rate of lung cancer and cancers of the esophagus, stomach, large intestine and rectum.

Smoking also increases the risk of developing cancer. It is known that exposure to asbestos and cigarette smoke significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

The treatment of asbestos

There is no treatment for diseases associated with asbestos. If the disease is discovered early, we can treat complications. Eliminating exposure can prevent the disease from getting worse. In all cases, workers must ensure that their family doctor or they know they have worked with asbestos or have been exposed. Current laws require employers to ensure that the designated persons exposed undergo regular medical examinations.

How can we detect asbestos?

Wherever fiber materials are used in buildings, workers should automatically suspect the presence of asbestos. Request a sample is subjected to a laboratory in order to be analyzed and identified.

If we detected asbestos, you have to call in an expert trained for this purpose to determine the measures to be taken. We must check for the presence of asbestos in dust accumulations. We must establish a sampling program of the air to determine the presence or absence of asbestos fibers. It must be remembered that if asbestos can be crushed with bare hands (the term used in this case is "friable") then dust can spread in the air and, therefore, there is a danger, no matter sampling results in the air.

The legal standard is it safe standard? What are safe levels?

Although there is no evidence on the "safe" level of exposure to asbestos, most governments have set limits of exposure to asbestos at work.

In British Columbia, the regulations on occupational health of the Workers 'Compensation Commission (Workers' Compensation Board) establish the exposure of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cm3) limit for all forms of asbestos. The regulations designate asbestos as a carcinogen.

In Alberta, the government has set a limit of exposure in the workplace or OEL 0.1 (f/cm3) for all forms of asbestos.

In Ontario, regulations on health and safety at work set the OEL 0.1 (f/cm3) for all forms of asbestos.

While these numbers may seem low, exposure to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (or 100,000 fibers in each cubic meter of air) for eight hours a day means that a worker can easily inhale up 'a million fibers per day.

The employer can claim that because a workplace complies with government regulations, workers have nothing to fear. This is false. Government standards for asbestos are inadequate and do not protect workers and workers against cancer. The standards were established to protect personnel against asbestos asbestosis, not to protect against CUPE cancer factories.

Do not forget, a legal standard does not mean a safe standard.

What can we do?

Once the asbestos has been identified, it is necessary to take measures to prevent exposure. The only permanent solution to eliminate the danger of removing asbestos. Sometimes covering the asbestos with other building materials. You can also "encapsulate" or sealed with a coating. This process is not generally considered an adequate solution. The best method will depend on the condition of asbestos, its location and what could disrupt the future.

Regardless of the action taken, the work must be performed by specially trained personnel who take strict precautions to ensure that no one is exposed to asbestos. The work area must be closed and kept under negative pressure. As there is no safe level of exposure, all asbestos will spread in the air endanger the health of persons in the vicinity.

In repair where asbestos is present must be used for vacuum systems equipped with special vacuums localized collection of HEPA filter (High Efficiency Particulate Air) that remove dust asbestos fibers at the source, for example, when the brake pads are changed. One should not use air hoses as they can spread the dust around the workplace. The employer must provide workers for special work clothes, showers and two boxes, one for clean clothes and the other for dirty clothes. He must also see to wash these clothes in controlled conditions.

How can you prevent diseases related to asbestos?

There is a way to prevent asbestosis and cancers arising, that is by preventing exposure to asbestos.

Remember that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

For further information, please contact: National Health Service and security CUPE 1375 St. Laurent Blvd OTTAWA, Ontario K1G 0Z7 Tel: (613) 237-1590 fax: (613) 237-5508 email:, site web: