Because asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that resists heat and electricity, it would seem to be an excellent substance for use in buildings. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry notes that while this was initially thought to be true, scientists discovered that exposure to the fibers can be fatal.
Even though asbestos is no longer used, it is still present in many of the structures where it was originally installed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has developed standards that indicate the safe levels of the substance and how exposure can be controlled for the general public, as well as for construction workers. However, the risk of dangerous exposure levels for those in construction trades is still abnormally high.
OSHA explains that there are certain construction-related activities that may lead to the release of the fibers into the air. These include asbestos removal and clean-up, as well as repairing, maintaining and demolishing buildings containing asbestos. OSHA standards regulate many aspects of asbestos exposure and require strict adherence by employers, including the following responsibilities:
- Train workers
- Conduct exposure assessments and identify risks
- Post warnings in hazardous areas
- Provide medical surveillance
- Maintain records regarding worker exposure and medical surveillance
Many of these tasks must be undertaken by someone who specializes in fulfilling the OSHA requirements for asbestos.
Health conditions caused by asbestos exposure typically damage the respiratory system or the digestive system. For example, asbestosis is a lung disease that causes extreme shortness of breath, and raises a person’s risk of cancers. Symptoms from exposure may not develop until more than 20 years later.