Safe practices when dealing with asbestos in the workplace

The Belgian Fund for Asbestos Claims reported that in 2015, a record number of 292 people suffering from mesothelioma were officially recognised as asbestos victims. They most likely contracted the disease decades ago. These days, the risk of getting asbestos-related cancer is small, provided that certain rules are observed.  

Many buildings still contain asbestos-based materials or applications for which asbestos was used. Renovation and demolition work in buildings, as well as the removal of asbestos-based materials, pose the greatest risk for asbestos exposure. The hazards associated with asbestos also vary depending on the type and the condition of the material you are dealing with.  

When asbestos is damaged or disturbed, small fibres that are not visible to the eye may be released into the air. When airborne asbestos fibres are inhaled, they may lead to serious health problems, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. The fact is that people affected by an asbestos-related disease have usually been exposed to a high concentration of asbestos fibres for a extended period of time, but in theory, one single asbestos fibre could result in equally devastating consequences. Asbestos-related diseases usually only develop after 20 to 40 years following exposure. But as long as you observe all mandatory measures for the prevention of asbestos exposure, the risk of contracting such a disease is extremely small.  

Minimise potential exposure

Verify whether your building contains asbestos materials. If the answer is yes, then you must draw up an inventory of the asbestos locations and the asbestos-based materials identified. To minimise potential exposure to asbestos, you will need to develop an appropriate asbestos management programme, including a risk assessment and exposure prevention measures.

The asbestos management programme must include the following:

  • what to do with asbestos-based materials (leave it undisturbed, fixation, encapsulation or removal);
  • prevention measures to minimise exposure;
  • regular assessments of the condition of the asbestos-based materials (at least once every year);
  • action to be taken when asbestos is found to be in a damaged or deteriorating condition.

The prevention advisor can assist you in drawing up the asbestos inventory and the asbestos management programme in conformity with legal requirements. When complete, you will need to inform your employees to ensure they are fully aware of the measures in place.  

With regard to third parties carrying out work on your premises, you must first hand a copy of your asbestos inventory to the contractor in charge of the project, and make sure you get proof of receipt.  

Leave certain jobs to the experts

Planning renovation or maintenance works? Then you must be aware that some asbestos-based materials may only be removed, demolished or repaired by a licensed asbestos removal company. You can find an overview of licensed asbestos removal companies on the website of the Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour, and Social Dialogue. A number of repair and maintenance works may be carried out by in-house personnel provided that they have successfully completed training requirements and on the condition that the required precautions have been taken. Together with you, the external department will monitor the health of your workers through regular medical exams and other screening tests.

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