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Asbestos—the generic name for a group of naturally occurring mineral fibers that were formerly used in building materials and other products because of their strength and ability to resist heat and corrosion-—is well-recognized as a health hazard and is highly regulated.
Some materials are presumed to contain asbestos if installed or made before 1980, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The following are examples of these materials as well as other presumed asbestos-containing materials:
Workers could be exposed to the hazard while manufacturing asbestos-containing products, performing brake or clutch repairs, renovating or demolishing buildings or ships, cleaning up from those activities, having contact with deteriorating asbestos-containing materials, or cleaning up after natural disasters. Heavy exposures tend to occur most in the construction industry and in ship repair, particularly when workers remove asbestos materials during renovation, repairs or demolition.
Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scarlike tissue in the lungs and result in loss of lung function, which often leads to disability and even death. Asbestos also causes cancer of the lung and other diseases, including mesothelioma.
OSHA has regulations to protect workers from asbestos hazards, categorized by type of workplace:
The regulations include requiring employers to do the following:
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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