18.06.2005 Feature Article

Occupational Health And Safety And ‘Deadly’asbestos

Occupational Health And Safety And Deadlyasbestos
18.06.2005 LISTEN

Recommend Government ban asbestos with sense of urgency. From materials engineering, environmental management and occupational health and safety management viewpoint, I have deemed it expedient to contribute to Mr. Napoleon Kpoh's article. (see News of Tuesday, 14 June 2005. Mr. Kpoh, General Secretary of Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) gave a title “Ban asbestos, it Kills – Union” to his article.

Mr. Kpoh has done extremely well and needs to be congratulated for providing this very important and useful warning to Ghana. Yes, asbestos is carcinogenic (causes cancer of the lungs) and eventually kills people who are exposed to it. From my own experience as maintenance engineer and later as a metallurgist and materials engineer, asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and is highly regulated.

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), USA an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. Heaviest exposures occur in the construction industry, particularly during the removal of asbestos during renovation or demolition. Employees are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials) and during automotive brake and clutch repair work. Another area of interest is in the metal smelting industries – casting spouts, flanges, floats, trough linings etc.

As Mr. Kpoh rightly pointed out, asbestos workers have increased chances of getting two principal types of cancer: cancer of the lung tissue itself and mesothelioma, a cancer of the thin membrane that surrounds the lung and other internal organs. These diseases do not develop immediately following exposure to asbestos, but appear only after a number of years. Literature research indicates that the incubation period is between 20 and 30 years.

Controlling the exposure to asbestos can be done through engineering controls, administrative actions, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Engineering controls include such things as isolating the source and using ventilation systems. Administrative actions include limiting the workers exposure time and providing showers. Personal protective equipment includes wearing the proper respiratory protection and clothing.

Normally, the employer shall institute a training program for all employees who are exposed to airborne concentrations of asbestos. Training shall be provided prior to or at the time of initial assignment and at least annually thereafter.

In light of the above it is highly recommended that Government have in place legislative instruments, Acts, Bills and related laws that would ban the importation of the deadly material into Ghana. It would demand creatively integrating expertise from various disciplines and agencies (engineering, science and technology, law enforcement, surveillance etc) in order to combat this health hazard. For example, the Customs and Excise organisation, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and the Ghana Standards Board may form a kind of consortium, operating at the various ports of entry (Tema, Accra, Takoradi, and the Ghana-Togo border) to study the material safety data sheets (MSDS) of said products. And it should be mandated or legislated that any product detected to contain asbestos be shipped back to their place of origin and not be allowed to be taken off the vessel which brought them in.

Sadly to say there are a number of Australian workers who were formerly exposed to the deadly material (asbestos) and are now fighting for their lives. Companies who manufactured the products are being sued for millions of dollars by the respective patients of asbestosis and mesothelioma. Some patients may not live long enough to enjoy their compensation by the time the case is settled in court.

No, let's not wait for this to happen in Ghana and to Ghanaians. Let's come up with a workable solution to mitigate the problem – PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE. Charles Agyeman Manu MEng, MAppSc, MBA Assistant Director Professional Development, Australian Public Service. Member, Australian Institute for Governance, Canberra. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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