Asbestos is a strong, fire-resistant fibrous mineral. In the past, asbestos was used as insulation against heat or noise, and for fire protection.
Asbestos fibres are extremely fine and once disturbed, can stay in the air for hours. Breathing asbestos fibres may cause serious diseases, including pneumonia, heart disease and mesothelioma.
Risks presented by asbestos in the workplace are directly related to the hazards associated with the substance, how it is used in the workplace and a worker's susceptibility to exposure.
Asbestos-related diseases usually develop many years after a person has been exposed to the fibres. The risk of developing these diseases increases with the amount of asbestos you inhale and the length of time you are exposed. Smokers are at an increased risk of developing asbestos-related disease as compared to non-smokers.
Part 37 - Asbestos of the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulation lays out the actions that must be taken to meet legal requirements and protect workers from exposure to asbestos. Implemented control measures must keep worker exposure levels to asbestos below the Occupational Exposure Limit. Control measures follow a hierarchy:
- elimination: eliminate or remove the hazard from the workplace - this is the most effective control measure
- substitution: replace with a less hazardous condition, practice or process
- administrative: improvements in the way work is done
- engineering: physical changes that reduce exposure, and isolate the worker from the hazard
- personal protective equipment: protect the worker with personal protective equipment.