Mr Julius Akpong is a seasoned safety professional and HSE Manager at Cummins Energy Solutions Nigeria Ltd. In this short interview with Safety Record’s John Ogunsemore, he explains why the Nigerian government must emulate many other countries in urgently banning the use of asbestos. Excerpt.
Asbestos is a fibrous material. Because of its high ability to withstand heat, it is used widely for insulation and for building materials. It has a wide range of uses. And there are different types of asbestos – brown, blue and white. They are far more than these but these are the most conspicuous types of asbestos. They are very useful in the building industry. They are useful in the machine industry too for insulation; for things like gaskets. Gaskets are used in hot engines and they need to be able to withstand heat.
Research has shown that asbestos is dangerous…
They are very, very dangerous. There is this thing called lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos can cause jaundice, and it can cause inflammation of the liver. When that happens, there is no treatment that can really help it. This is a very tiny fibre. As soon as it is disturbed and it gets into your respiratory system, it takes a lot of time there and it does a lot of irreversible damage; so they are very, very dangerous. A lot of countries have banned the use of asbestos but I’m sure you know that in Nigeria here, you can still see asbestos ceiling in different places; you can still see asbestos gasket in different places but they’ve been banned widely across the world.
What categories of workers are exposed to this menace?
People who do demolition works in old buildings where asbestos was used are exposed to asbestos because when they disturb the asbestos by way of breaking them down, invisible fibres are breathed into their organs. They begin to go down into the lungs and the lung is not able to fish them out like it would do with other wastes. Our bodies has its defence mechanism of how to bring out wastes – that’s why you would cough, sneeze or shiver sometimes – to be able to defend against certain environmental factors. But asbestos cannot be thrown out like that. It becomes a lot of ailments in the body. And that is usually the big issue.
What other alternatives are there to replace asbestos?
There are a lot of alternatives. Currently, for roofing these days, there is PVC. There are a lot of other materials that have been made with a combination of other materials which are used extensively these days to replace asbestos. Even in gaskets, there are a lot of other substitutes which pass for asbestos.
As a safety professional who knows the dangers that asbestos poses, what advice do you have for government and other stakeholders?
Number one is policy. The duty of government in all of these things is policymaking. Government should through its relevant agencies make policies that would first of all ban the use of asbestos and then ensure that they are removed. And then if anybody is going to do demolition work or disposal work of asbestos, there are certified organisations that are responsible and competent to handle asbestos. These persons should draw closer to relevant regulatory bodies like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Factories Inspectorate Division of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. These regulatory bodies should certify them and then make them known to the public that these are the people who have the competence to handle asbestos. They have the right PPE to use; they have competent, trained people who handle these things. They are the ones that should be called upon in any of these situations.