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Guest Post by:Asbestos.Com

How Electricians Can Avoid Asbestos Exposure

Electricians can often work in a variety of settings. From new construction to renovations, private residences to commercial buildings or even vacant properties, electricians are trained to handle many different situations. Electricians are also aware of the dangers of working with electricity, but fewer know of the hidden dangers of asbestos exposure.

While asbestos is not typically dangerous if undisturbed, when asbestos-containing materials are broken or deteriorated they can release microscopic fibers into the air. These fibers can enter the body through the nose or mouth and lodge in the lungs, abdomen and the linings of internal organs causing a number of serious illnesses.

One of the most deadly of these diseases is mesothelioma cancer, a cancer that attacks the lining of internal organs and most often affects the lining of the lungs. Because the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases can take anywhere between 15 to 50 years to surface, even retired electricians may be at risk.

Until the 1980s asbestos was used in a variety of building materials. Because it is resistant to heat, chemical corrosion and is a poor conductor of electricity, it was an ideal insulator for electrical wiring, boxes and outlets. While new uses of asbestos are more strictly regulated, its use is not banned in many existing materials. Many buildings and homes built before the late 1980s likely contain asbestos.

Some products that electricians may come in contact with in the course of their work that may contain asbestos are:
• Floor tiles
• Acoustical wall and ceiling tiles
• Water pipe insulation
• Vermiculite attic insulation
• Wire insulation
• Asbestos cement for underground wiring
• Drywall
• Caulk and sealants
• HVAC ductwork insulation
• Circuit breakers
• Electrical cloth
• Thermal paper

Disturbing these materials by drilling, sanding or breaking them can cause asbestos fibers to become airborne.

Precautions for Working with Asbestos

The best way for electricians to prevent asbestos exposure is to know the locations of any possible asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). In most cases, the owner of a commercial building should already know this information since this falls under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Asbestos (NESHAP) regulations. Before any work begins, the locations of these materials should be made known to anyone working in the area.

OSHA has also published guidelines for anyone who may be working with asbestos. The duty to protect employees also falls on the employer. One of the precautions employers are responsible for is providing employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) if they will be working with ACMs. This equipment includes:
• Respirators
• Eyewear
• Disposable Coveralls
• Rubber Boots
• Disposable Gloves

Self-employed electricians or contractors must take the precautions to protect themselves by purchasing their own equipment. There are also EPA training sessions regarding working with asbestos that electricians can take. If you are interested in training, contact your local EPA office.

When cleaning up any possible ACMs, wet clean-up procedures should always be used. Any asbestos waste should be packed in airtight containers that are clearly marked. It is always safer to assume that a material contains asbestos if you are not sure.

Being well informed on where asbestos can be found and following OSHA guidelines can minimize asbestos exposure. Education can help electricians reduce the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease while on the job.


Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas researches and writes about asbestos and its related diseases for the Mesothelioma Center and the Mesothelioma Center Blog .

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