Frequently Asked Occupational Health Questions

1. Q: What are the procedures to follow when registering a contractor to handle asbestos?

A: The Department of Labour (DoL) is the responsible body for Registered Asbestos Contractors. For further information, you can contact:

Deputy Director Occupational Health and Hygiene
IES Branch
Department of Labour
Phone: (012) 309 4387 Fax: (012) 309 4763
www.labour.gov.za

2. Q: Our office has an asbestos roof. Does this pose a health risk to occupants and how?

A: Generally speaking, asbestos containing materials (ACMs), such as asbestos-cement roofs, do not seem to pose a health risk to occupants, provided they are maintained in good condition and the materials are not disturbed in any way (by processes such as cutting, drilling, high pressure water cleaning, etc). Only if the ACMs are disturbed by such processes in an uncontrolled manner, and fibres get dispersed into the air and inhaled, there might be a significant health risk.

The Asbestos Regulations require that any ACMs in a building are kept in good condition and an inventory is kept on the premises of their location, condition and extent. Any person performing work on these materials must be informed and trained, and take the necessary precautions (such as wearing a respirator mask and wetting the material beforehand) to minimize the risk and protect their health.
See Asbestos Regulation and Information pamphlet below.

3. Q: The roof tiles of our new house contain asbestos. We want to remove the tiles. What are the regulations?


A: The current asbestos legislation requires that any removal of asbestos and asbestos containing materials (ACMs) is carried out by a Department of Labour Registered Asbestos Contractor (RAC) under controlled conditions. Work on ACM can be done by persons other than RAC, provided they follow the work safe procedures as outlined in the Regulations (see particularly section 15).
See Asbestos Regulations, List of RACs and Information Pamphlet below.

For further information on RACs, contact the Department of Labour:

Deputy Director Occupational Health and Hygiene
IES Branch
Department of Labour
Phone: (012) 309 4387 Fax; (012) 309 4763
www.labour.gov.za

4. Q: What is the process to follow in booking an appointment for an employee at the NIOH, for determination of a possible occupational disease?

A: The clinic days at the NIOH are Tuesday to Thursday on alternative weeks from 08h00 in the morning. Patients are seen on an appointment basis. The number to call is 011 712 6426/ 6462 to make a booking. The following is requested from all referrers:

- Name and Surname of the client,
- ID number and copy,
- Physical and postal address of the company referring,
- Vat number of the company referring,
- Name and contact of the person referring,
- Referral letter with brief occupational history and reasons for referral,
- MSDS- Material Safety Data Sheet of what the client is exposed to.

Upon receiving the above, an appointment date will be allocated.

5. Q: Our ceiling is of asbestos origin and has never been changed in 30 years. It has a foul smell. Is this hazardous?

A: Asbestos is an inert material and does not have any smell. It is a serious health risk when dry asbestos fibre dust is present in the air. However, if the ceiling does contain asbestos and is deteriorating it should be repaired, sealed and replaced. There is a legal obligation to keep a register of any asbestos materials on site and only DoL Registered Asbestos Contractors are allowed to remove/ replace asbestos containing materials. Any work on asbestos materials must be performed by trained personnel, taking the necessary precautions.
See information pamphlet and Asbestos Regulations below

6. Q: I had the ceilings of my house, which contained asbestos removed by breaking them and letting them fall on the floor 7 years ago. My children keep falling sick every now and then. Could this be attributed to the asbestos dust that could have found its way into crevices and roof timbers?

A: Exposure to asbestos has been linked to the development of serious lung diseases, among them cancer and asbestosis (asbestosis is more linked to heavy, occupational exposure). What is common to all asbestos related diseases is a long latency period,
i.e. disease only manifest years after being exposed (typically 15-50 years) following exposure. It is therefore, very unlikely that your children falling ill, is in anyway asbestos related.

7. Q: I am a Medical Doctor and would like to do the Diploma in Occupational Health with your Institution. What is the application process?

A: The Diploma is offered at the following universities:
1. University of the Witwatersrand
2. University of Pretoria
3. Stellenbosch University
4. University of Cape Town
5. University of KZN
6. University of the Free State

For further information on the programs please visit each university’s website.

8. Q: I am interested in pursuing Masters in Public Health in the field of occupational hygiene. What is the application process?

A: The School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand offers the Masters in Public Health (MPH) in the field of occupational hygiene in collaboration with the NIOH. For further information on the MPH see the brochure from Wits below.
See MPH Wits brochure below.

9. Q: How do I get a quotation for a Occupational Hygiene Survey that needs to be done at my work place?

A: The Occupational Hygiene Department of the NIOH provides information and advice about occupational health and safety to help promote safe and healthy working environments. To request a quotation use the contact details below: 

Mr Gopolang Sekobe
Tel: 011 712 6500
Email: Gopolang.sekobe@nioh.nhls.ac.za


10. Q: Does NIOH offer training courses in Asbestos Fibre counting and asbestos identification?

A: The NIOH is currently running the Asbestos Fibre Counting Using Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) course on an ad hoc basis. Course participants will be required to attend a one day theory (including class exercises) and a second day of practical fibre counting at the NIOH. See “Asbestos Module 2 announcement July 2013” at the bottom of the page. 

For more information on the course you may use the contact details provided below: 

Gaby Mizan
Tel: 011 712 6457
Email: gaby.mizan@nioh.nhls.ac.za 


11. Q: I have soil samples that I would like to have tested for asbestos fibres. What is your method of determining the fibre volumes?

A: At present, the NIOH does not have an accredited method for determining asbestos fibre volume in soil. 


12. Q: I am looking for information on hearing conservation and noise induced hearing loss, do you have pamphlets that can provide that kind of information. 

A: The NIOH has produced a pamphlet called “Noise in the workplace and ‘Buy-Quiet’ Policy”. See the pamphlet at the bottom of the page. 


13. Q: What are the minimum requirements for removing of asbestos sheets of a roof?

A: As specified in the Asbestos Regulations, 2001, working or dismantling of asbestos cement products must be carried out under strict controlled conditions to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres and environmental contamination. These conditions are stipulated particularly in sections 15, 11 and 13 of the Regulations.
 
For further advice you can contact:
 
Elize Lourens
Deputy Director Occupational Health and Hygiene
IES Branch, Department of Labour
Phone: (012) 309 4387; Fax: (012) 309 4763
Email: elize.lourens@labour.gov.aza
www.labour.gov.za


14. Q: Does the NIOH have a laboratory that does asbestos identification in bulk samples?

A: Our Pathology Division does the asbestos identification in bulk samples using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Their contact details are:
 
Prof Jim Phillips:
Email: jim.phillips@nioh.nhls.ac.za
Tel: 011 712 6425
 
Estelle Garton:
Email: estelle.garton@nioh.nhls.ac.za
Tel: 11 712 6473


15. Q: Can I have my asbestos roof washed before painting it?

A: If you are planning to clean your roof before painting, do not use any abrasive materials or high pressure water jets that may result in release of fibres into the environment.
 

LINKS 
 
Asbestos FAQ
Asbestos Regulations 2001
August 2014 Registered Asbestos Contractor
DoL Criteria for registration as asbestos contractor

Wits MPH Brochure

Asbestos Module 2 Announcement

Noise in the Workplace and Buy Quiet NIOH flyer

Environmental Enquiry Registration Form (Asbestos Relief Trustr and Kgalagadi Relief Trust)
Guidelines for Environmetal Claimants