Asbestos represents an “old” and well-documented risk. Much is known about exposure and effects on health and “everyone” is aware that asbestos is hazardous. There are specific regulations that set out strict requirements for the handling and removal of asbestos-containing materials.
Petroleum companies have traditionally had a high level of awareness of asbestos risk and exhibited good practice in its management, but indications are emerging that the guard has been lowered and that knowledge of asbestos is inadequate.
The asbestos ban has been in place for a long time and new generations of workers have entered the petroleum industry without experience of asbestos and are probably less familiar with its previous applications.
The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway recently issued an order to Equinor based on two incidents where employees were probably exposed to asbestos. The incidents indicate that the asbestos risk was only detected by chance. There was no systematic approach.
Chief Engineer Morten Lunde, whose remit at the PSA covers the working environment, is uneasy when he examines the pattern revealed in the two incidents and fears that there may be unrecorded statistics.
“Unfortunately, given these two incidents, there are likely to have been other asbestos incidents that the companies have failed to capture. Workers may have been exposed to asbestos”, he says.
“The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway is concerned to see cases where the companies do not have systems in place to check, where relevant, for the presence of asbestos before work starts. The companies are well aware of the applications for asbestos and they have extensive planning systems, not least for managing HSE risk.”
Since its ban, asbestos has gradually become less of an issue, but, on older facilities and installations in particular, a keen eye needs to be kept out for its presence.
"Our experience is that asbestos may have entered the petroleum industry by way of foreign suppliers who have been subject to less stringent requirements", Lunde says. "Going forward, there are a number of older facilities to be removed and broken up, so it is important that good routines have been established to determine if asbestos is present.”
- Fibrous mineral with especially good technical properties
- Mined from the bedrock, very rich deposits in Canada, but also found in Norway
- Used in various types of insulation and as reinforcement in concrete (eternit) and brake linings
- Fibres in the air are trapped in the lungs and over time may lead to cancer and pulmonary fibrosis
- Combined smoking and exposure to asbestos intensify the health effects
- The use of asbestos has been prohibited in Norway since 1985