Is Asbestos Roofing Harmful?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral product that is resistant to both thermal and chemical degradation, which made it a very popular building material in the construction industry.  It was used to manufacture a variety of products such as roof sheets, tiles, down pipes, gutters, ceiling boards etc. 

It became apparent that exposure to asbestos caused lung disease and by 1977 global asbestos production slowed down considerably. South Africa’s mines ceased asbestos production in 2001 but only after many years of research, discussion and consultation asbestos was finally banned in March 2008. 

Asbestos-containing roofs could be harmful, especially when attempting to remove, repair or clean it.  It is important to find a registered asbestos removal service provider to remove any roofing or related products containing asbestos.  It is illegal to remove, transport or dispose of asbestos unless registered with the health and safety authorities as well as the Department of Labour. 

READ MORE: Asbestos Roof Removal Price

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

Asbestos becomes hazardous when microscopic fibres become airborne and is inhaled or ingested.  The human body cannot expel these asbestos fibres, and over time it could lead to a number of serious and often fatal lung diseases such as:

  • Mesothelioma – which is cancer affecting the lining of the lungs along with the lining of the lower digestive tract.
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer – which is the same as lung cancer originating from the smoking of tobacco and related products, and other causes.
  • Asbestosis – which is a serious condition that causes irreversible scarring of the lung tissue that results from extended exposure to asbestos over many years.
  • Pleural thickening – which is a problem that stems from extended and excessive exposure to asbestos. When this condition occurs, the lining of the lung, or pleura, thickens and begins to swell. When the condition worsens, the lung itself is squeezed, and it can cause shortness of breath along with discomfort in the chest.

Friable asbestos is the most hazardous and could pose significant dangers to human health.  It crumbles easily or can be reduced to powder by hand pressure. Asbestos fibres can become airborne and inhaled when for example asbestos roof products such as roof sheets, tiles, gutters etc. are removed and damaged.  Cleaning asbestos with high-pressure water jets can also cause asbestos to disintegrate and become hazardous to the environment as a whole.

Non-friable asbestos cannot be crumbled by hand and is less likely to release asbestos fibres.  However, when it is drilled into, broken, cleaned with abrasives or sanded – asbestos fibres are very likely to be released and become airborne.  Utmost care must be taken when working with both friable and non-friable asbestos. 

Asbestos Removal Process

As mentioned, it is a requirement by law that all asbestos removal contractors are registered with the Department of Labour as per Regulation 21 of the Asbestos Regulations, 2001.  

The first step in the removal process is an assessment of the site by an asbestos removal company such as Asbestos removal and Roofing. 

The next step is that the Approved Asbestos Inspection Authority (AAIA) visits the site and compiles a work plan.  The work plan must be submitted to and approved by the Department of Labour before work can commence.  The approval process can take up to ten working days.

According to legislation, employees involved in removing and disposing of asbestos must complete an asbestos removal training course once a year at an authorised training facility, undergo annual medical screening and have lung X-rays every three years – (training and medical clearance certificates are only valid for one year).  Everyone who enters a site where asbestos is removed has to wear protective face masks and workers have to wear the appropriate protective clothing (PPE), to safeguard them from inhaling or ingesting hazardous asbestos fibres.  

It is also required by law that specific “Asbestos Warning” signage is displayed on sites where asbestos is being removed.  

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