Asbestos abatement is hard work
Asbestos abatement is fast becoming one of the most essential jobs in the building industry, as any trace of the deadly mineral left in structures undergoing renovation or demolition can potentially cause life-threatening diseases to those who are exposed to it. Because of its importance, asbestos abatement is a highly regulated field and workers who must perform the task need to be highly trained and disciplined.
Asbestos abatement workers must wear a full-body suit made from insulating housewrap, a highly efficient particulate air (HEPA) mask and rubber gloves and boots, according to Northern Nevada Business Weekly. In addition, they are required to shower every time they put on these suits, even when they go on their lunch breaks.
Cory Bustrum, asbestos superintendent and estimator in Diversified Concrete Cutting’s asbestos abatement division, said that it takes a special kind of worker to do asbestos abatement.
“Wearing a mask seven hours or better a day, it is like having an octopus hooked to your face,” he told the news source. “Not a lot of guys can do the work.”
The strict requirements for asbestos abatement are not confined to workers; the jobs sites, too, must be brought up to special standards by installing negative air machines, negative air pressure enclosures and portable showers. These are just some of the steps that abatement workers take to ensure that no deadly asbestos fibers escape, which is vital, as the inhalation of such fibers can cause malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
“The majority of the equipment we use is a spin-off from the old days of NASA,” Bustrum said to the news provider. “It is a lot of gear we put on them, and we basically build a ‘boy-in-a-bubble’ syndrome.”
The suits can get uncomfortably hot and some people simply can?t handle it, according to Tony Mayorga, training instructor and president of Laborers Local 169 in Reno, Nevada.
“Some people just cannot stand the heat,” he told the news source. “When you are in there you are in an enclosed area; it gets hot. During training we tell them it’s hard work, but the main thing is the heat. You have to get used to the environment, just like any other job.”
The heat isn?t the only thing that can drive workers away from asbestos abatement; the mask can also present problems, says Bustrum.
“They get claustrophobic from wearing the mask,” he told the news provider. “A lot of people make it through the [training] class and don?t even make it through their first shift. Some don?t even make it for lunch time.”
The training for asbestos abatement is intensive. At Laborers Local 169, workers must complete a 40-hour instructional course that includes 14 hours of hands on training, according to Mayorga. The workers must also pay for their licensing by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA).
Each year, asbestos abatement workers must take an eight-hour course to help keep the proper procedures fresh in their minds in addition to reapplying annually for their OHSA license.
While the training and work associated with asbestos abatement are strenuous, it is an incredibly important job as many older buildings contain asbestos. For many years the material was used in the construction industry because of its resistance to fire and utility as an insulator. However, in the mid 1960s, the health consequences of asbestos exposure became widely known, eventually leading to its disuse. The mineral has been banned in more than 50 countries, but the U.S. has yet to follow suit. In addition, Canada is heavily involved in the mining of asbestos.
The actual work isn?t the only difficult part of asbestos abatement, as many bureaucratic procedures must be performed as well.
“There is a mountain of paperwork even once you have the job,” Bustrum told the news source.