01 June 2010

Shipbreaking Involves Specific Asbestos Exposure Risks for Workers:

Shipbreaking is a growing industry in the United States and one that poses health and safety risks to workers because of the wide use of asbestos and other hazardous materials in older ships.

Shipyard workers are among the groups of workers who are at higher risk of developing mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen associated with asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. Asbestos was used extensively in ships.

A specialized part of the maritime industry, shipbreaking involves the dismantling and disposal of obsolete U.S. Navy and Maritime Administration ships as well as commercial vessels and offshore drilling rigs. It’s expanding in the United States because the federal government stopped exporting ships to foreign countries for scrapping in the late 1990s due to environmental concerns.

New guidelines published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration outline employers’ obligations to provide safe work conditions for workers involved in shipbreaking.

Because of the structural complexity of larger ships, they are generally dismantled in sections. Each section is then moved ashore for further dismantling.

Specific hazards of shipbreaking noted by OSHA include asbestos exposure for workers removing thermal insulation, handling circuit breakers and cables and removing floor tiles. Additional asbestos exposures can occur from removing gaskets from pipes and from electrical systems. Engine rooms usually contain the most asbestos and take the longest time for removal of asbestos.

Before a section of a ship is cut away, OSHA guidelines say asbestos-containing material should be removed from all areas that are readily accessible.

When asbestos-containing materials are cut with power saws or moved, microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne, increasing the risk of a worker inhaling the fibers. Inhaled asbestos fibers can lodge in the lungs and remain a lifetime, leading to development of asbestos-related diseases 30 to 50 years after exposure.

Many states require, and OSHA recommends that an asbestos inspector identify all asbestos materials prior to the start of shipbreaking.

Source: AboutMesothelioma.Net. Tuesday, 1 June 2010

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