Asbestos is a natural mineral found in soil and rocks and are formed from fibres of varying size and shape. It also has high resistance to heat and most chemicals. It is widely used for making various industrial products, mostly for roofing, insulation materials, ceramic floors, asbestos cement products, automotive products (brake and clutch), textiles, gasket and protective clothing.
Nevertheless, asbestos as a toxic chemical that can cause lung cancer and its use was banned in 41 countries around the world. In 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has urged all countries to ban the use of asbestos.
Control of asbestos usage in workplaces was carried out through legislation and enforcement of Factory and Machinery Act (Asbestos Regulation) 1986 and Occupational Safety and Health Act (Use and Standards of Exposure of Chemicals Hazardous to Health) 2000 on industries involved. This is to create awareness and understanding among employers in addressing problems and controlling employees’ exposure to asbestos material. Occupational Safety and Health Act (Prohibition of Use of Materials) 1999 including Crocidolite (Asbestos) also came into force on August 2, 1999, prohibiting the use of Crocidolite chemicals in workplaces.
However, percentage of industries compliance to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Use and Standards of Exposure of Chemicals Hazardous to Health) 2000 is not very favourable. Hence, improvement notices were given out to employers to ensure that proper control measures were exercised.
Although there are only 17 listed manufacturers of asbestos based products, the number of people involved in using and handling these products could not be determined. This is very concerning as exposure to asbestos could not only affect the health of employees in the long run and cause loss of lives, it could also involve large amount of compensation that needs to be given to those affected.
Therefore, to reduce the effect of long term exposure to asbestos on workers, legislations should be enforced to prohibit the use of all kinds of asbestos in workplaces, as done in a lot of other countries. If this could be implemented, the use of asbestos based product can be reduced and the number of occupational disease caused by asbestos could be minimized.