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Middle East  

Asbestos - a serious matter

The management of hazardous material such as asbestos is not regulated in the MENA region, however Hassan Ktaech, Project Manager, Asbestos Services says this is no reason not to take it seriously.


Across the Middle East success stories of infrastructural development like new airports and expansions, man-made islands, resorts and housing projects have the downside of impacting the environment in an immense way. One material that is always an issue on construction and demolition sites is asbestos, a naturally occurring silicate mineral, which has near-magical heat and fire-resistant properties but is a known cause of mesothelioma cancer and is rightfully banned by more than 50 countries.

When asbestos is disturbed through demolition and/or renovation activities and becomes airborne, small asbestos fibers can be inhaled deep into the lungs and after several years can develop lung cancer. Moreover, workers who are unknowingly exposed to asbestos are in greater risk as they may inhale large quantities of asbestos and quickly develop asbestosis which progressively makes breathing more difficult, in addition to lung cancer. It’s not commonly understood that asbestos can still be disturbed if demolition or renovation is not taking place - a simple task of erecting a painting on a wall has the potential of disturbing asbestos if the wall has been identified and verified to be asbestos-containing.

Within the MENA region, the only governmental body that has a strong and executable legislation for the safe removal and handling of asbestos is the Abu Dhabi Occupational, Safety and Health (OSH) Center. Dubai and Sharjah have prohibited the use of asbestos in new construction since 2006 but have not yet fully addressed the safe management of existing asbestos on site. Even if a regulatory framework to manage asbestos was developed, this alone will not guarantee adherence; it would need to be strongly enforced to have an impact.

In the absence of any such regulation, we need to encourage a culture of willing compliance with international safety measures in the MENA region. Instead of relying on local legislation to guide their operations, companies must strive to exercise due diligence and take all necessary precautions to ensure a safe environment exist for employees, visitors and/or neighbours of their properties.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff works with many clients in the hospitality and financial sectors who have proactively sought our asbestos consultancy services, but it sadly not the norm.

Outside the MENA region, companies and directors of businesses can find themselves prosecuted personally for poor due diligence. While this is not the case in the MENA region, the impact of not managing and dealing with these materials in an appropriate and safe manner is still significant and must not be ignored.

Hassan Ktaech

Project Manager, Asbestos Services




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