Exposure of Industrial Plumbers to Asbestos

Throughout the European Union, millions tonnes of asbestos were used in the
manufacture of products for building and for industrial installations. The
'Annals of Occupational Hygiene' have published in Volume 51, Number 2 articles
on the 'Exposure of UK Industrial Plumbers to Asbestos'.

Epidemiological data suggest that there has been and may continue to be a
significant risk to maintenance workers, who through their work may disturb
asbestos-containing materials (ACM). The sampling and assessment of maintenance
workers' exposure is a particular problem because they may not know that they
are working with ACM. A strategy to monitor their true exposure has been
developed and applied to one group of workers. The asbestos exposure of
industrial plumbers was measured using personal passive samplers developed at
the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL). The light-weight samplers, which
collect particles by electrostatic attraction, are simple to use and do not
require prior knowledge that asbestos is to be disturbed as does conventional
sampling. The samplers were issued by post and analysed, after return, using
transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The strategy was found to be a
reasonably efficient and cost-effective way to obtain data on maintenance
worker's exposure to asbestos.

Today, in the UK, it is estimated that over half a million non-domestic
premises alone have asbestos-containing materials in them and it is recognized
that those working in building maintenance trades continue to be at significant

The study shows that far more than half of workers are exposed to >5 µm long
asbestos fibres.

Another part of the study enquired about the awareness of work with asbestos.
Approximately 20% of workers reported on the sample log that they had worked
with asbestos. There was a high correlation (93%) between the sampling log
replies that they were knowingly working with asbestos and measured asbestos on
the passive sampler. However, some 60% of the samples had >5 µm long asbestos
structures found by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis suggesting
that the plumbers were aware of about only one-third of their contacts with
asbestos materials throughout the week. This increased to just over one half of
the plumbers being aware of their contact based on the results for phase
contrast microscopy (PCM) countable asbestos fibres. The results from the
questionnaire found that over half of the plumbers replying thought that they
disturb asbestos only once a year and 90% of them thought they would work with
asbestos for <10 h year. Their expectations and awareness of work with asbestos
were therefore far lower than found during the period of monitoring.


AplusA-online.de - Source: Annals of Occupational Hygiene