I came across this article posted in January that really shook me up. A group of student volunteers in Ohio were assisting in the demolition of an old building that was to become their new school. They were unaware that the materials they were handling contained asbestos, and according to the article "Ohio School Facing Serious Charges After Students Were Used to Haul Away Asbestos Materials" the students were heavily exposed to fibres.
The phrase death sentence comes to mind...my heart really goes out to these kids who now face a lifetime filled with the potential of succumbing to asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the chest and/or abdomen).
The IHSA reports that here in Ontario, Asbestos-related diseases are the #1 work-related cause of death among construction workers. Scary stuff. Awareness is key to preventing exposure. Any worker involved in the renovation or demolition of an older structure, especially those built between the years 1930 and 1975, has a high likelihood of coming in contact with asbestos-containing materials ranging from acoustical ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring, insulation, to pre-1980 drywall joint compound and lighting fixtures, just to name a few.
"Asbestos exposure can cause a number of deadly diseases and they can take a long time to develop—up to 40 years. Asbestos-related diseases are the #1 cause of work-related death for people who have worked in Ontario construction. If you work in the building trades, then you have probably been exposed to asbestos."
The legal requirements and obligations are listed under Ontario Regulation 278/05: Designated Substance—Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations. A guide to topics is also available here on the IHSA (Infrastructure Health and Safety Association) website.
Three key points to keep in mind:
1. Certification: If you are involved in the removal of asbestos then you must be certified in asbestos abatement. Asbestos abatement is an exact science, this is not a do-it-yourself project. Leave it to the professionals.
2. Awareness: If you are not involved in removal, but are working on site that may contains asbestos, you should have asbestos awareness training. Its your right to know. I'll go one step further with that. If you work or volunteer in any of the construction trades, you should have Asbestos Awareness training. Period.
3. Asbestos kills: Do not risk your health and that of your family! Fibres and dust can be transferred from your clothing to your home, contaminating the air your family breathes.
Safety Guys offers Asbestos Awareness training which includes topics such as identifying hazards, exposure, illnesses, and rights and responsibilities and types of abatement.
All too often complacency can set in at the workplace. Maybe you have never been hurt before. Maybe you have just been lucky. Safety rules start to be seen as a hindrance, safety reps as the bad guys shaking fingers and slowing you down.
It is often the illusion of invincibility that can drive workers to take chances, to ignore their gut feelings and walk stupidly into a hazardous situation. Maybe you didn't hurt today - but did you let someone else.
You can make a difference everyday no matter the type of job you do, no matter the circumstances, no matter your title or scale of pay.
This poem is a poignant reminder to all workers that safety is about you - and the other guy, the one with the new baby, the one two years from retirement, the woman about to be married, the one who has your back...and to all the family and friends at home waiting for you.
I Chose to Look the Other way
By Don Merrill
I could have saved a life that day, But I chose to look the other way. It wasn't that I didn't care, I had the time, and I was there.
But I didn't want to seem a fool, Or argue over a safety rule. I knew he'd done the job before, If I spoke up, he might get sore.
The chances didn't seem that bad, I'd done the same, He knew I had. So I shook my head and walked on by, He knew the risks as well as I.
He took the chance, I closed an eye, And with that act, I let him die. I could have saved a life that day, But I chose to look the other way.
Now every time I see his wife, I'll know, I should have saved his life. That guilt is something I must bear, But it isn't something you need share.
If you see a risk that others take, That puts their health or life at stake. The question asked, or thing you say, Could help them live another day.
If you see a risk and walk away, Then hope you never have to say, I could have saved a life that day, But I chose, to look the other way.