Asbestos is a generic term for a group of naturally occurring mineral fibres known for their strength, flame and heat resistance.
For buildings constructed prior to 1992, assume that asbestos may be present. Prior to 1992, asbestos was used in buildings in a variety of ways, including:
- boiler and pipe insulation
- floor tiles
- wall coverings
- electrical insulation
- fire proofing of structural members and even in homes in roofing materials
Airborne asbestos is hazardous if inhaled and can cause occupational diseases, including respiratory problems, mesothelioma and lung cancer. An incident involving an older structure may disturb asbestos fibres and present a hazard to firefighters. These small fibres may be carried on the wind for long distances.
Actions for employers
- inform firefighters about the hazard of asbestos
- take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from exposure to asbestos, including:
- substitution of the hazardous biological or chemical agent
- engineering controls
- administrative controls, including work practices
- hygiene facilities and practices
- where applicable, provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect firefighters from exposure to asbestos
- train firefighters on the proper use, handling and disposal of the PPE
- train firefighters on appropriate personal hygiene and work practices (including decontamination)
- inform firefighters about any buildings known to contain asbestos in their response area
- train firefighters to recognize buildings and areas of buildings that are likely to contain asbestos
- make firefighters aware of potential sources of information relating to asbestos, such as asbestos management plans and building owner consultations
- provide standard operating procedures/operating guidelines (SOPs/OGs) to protect firefighters from the hazard of asbestos
Reducing airborne exposure
- wear and use the personal protective equipment the worker’s employer requires to be worn or used, to protect from the hazard of asbestos
During emergency operations, the use of positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and structural firefighting bunker gear prevents exposure to airborne asbestos.
SCBA or other appropriate respiratory protection should be worn by all personnel working within the hazard zone, from the commencement of emergency operations on scene until the completion of the origin and cause investigation activities.
Wetting down areas that may contain asbestos will significantly reduce the risk of airborne exposure.
It is recommended that following emergency operations and/or origin and cause investigation, the on-site clean-up of personnel and equipment should be conducted while using appropriate respiratory protection, as follows:
- brush off debris from PPE, tools and equipment
- gently rinse off the equipment with low pressure water or clean with a damp cloth, or use a vacuum equipped with a high efficiency particulate aerosol (HEPA) filter, if available
- identify any waste, such as cleaning cloths, as possible asbestos containing material
Upon returning to the fire station, personnel should shower and ensure that any contaminated equipment, clothing and PPE is decontaminated in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.
Applicable regulations and acts
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
- clause 25(1)(a) for providing PPE
- clause 25(2)(a) for providing information and instruction to a worker
- clause 25(2)(d) for making workers aware of hazards
- clause 25(2)(h) for taking every precaution reasonable to protect workers
- Regulation 851 – Industrial Establishments
- section 130 for training requirements for workers who may be exposed to biological, chemical or physical agents
- Regulation 833 - Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents
- for controlling asbestos exposure on emergency scenes
- for respiratory protection program requirements
- O. Reg. 278/05 - Designated Substance - Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations
- for protecting firefighters from asbestos in training structures and fire stations
In developing guidelines relating to emergency operations that may involve buildings containing asbestos, read firefighter guidance notes: