Asbestos and Occupational Wellness

Asbestos and Occupational Wellness

Professionals who work daily in mines, shipyards, construction sites and industrial plants are constantly exposed to different types of threats on the job. Environmental risk plays a role in occupational health, as there are less-known natural factors that put the health of workers at risk as well. Asbestos is an especially dangerous mineral that has been affecting the health of workers for decades. Today, asbestos remains the leading cause of occupational cancer in many countries around the world, and those on the job could still be exposed.

Shining a light on these naturally occurring occupational risks can lead to bigger discussions around why it is important to hold worker safety to a high standard. With more discussion around safety in the workplace, we can decrease the number of workers harmed annually on the job by preventable injury and sickness.

Asbestos related illness

Asbestos is still the leading cause of occupational cancer and in the past been a harmful material that has plagued those in the construction and industrial industry. Asbestos was first discovered to be harmful when asbestos miners in the early 1900s came down with cases of asbestosis and what would later become known as mesothelioma cancer. Despite the link to disease, asbestos would continue to be used in the construction of buildings, insulation, heating appliances and machinery such as pipes and boilers through much of the 20th century.

There is now legislation in place that controls the amount of asbestos used in new products. However, due to its previous widespread use, asbestos has been built into many buildings and materials that are still intact today. When asbestos containing materials in buildings or piping is broken apart, the risk of inhaling the microscopic fibers increases. Once inhaled or ingested, asbestos settles inside the body, irritating the organs and can lead to cancerous tumors. Therefore, those who work closely with broken building materials are more likely to be exposed.

Occupations with the highest risk

Construction workers and laborers – During the haydays of asbestos use, the mineral was noted for its strong qualities, resistance to heat and ability to absorb sound. These characteristics made asbestos a valuable product to use in the construction of buildings and homes. During a demolition or renovation project of an older building, asbestos can stay in the air up to 72 hours, so workers could be unknowingly exposed. To avoid inhaling any unwanted fibers, workers should make sure that they are wearing the proper clothing and masks, and only abatement professionals should attempt to remove asbestos.

Firefighters – When asbestos-containing materials in homes and other structures catch fire, asbestos can be displaced and become airborne. Firefighters can be especially vulnerable when materials are cooling, and the threat seems like it is contained. Asbestos can become airborne as damaged structures are cooling off, so firefighters and officials should be wary of removing safety equipment and masks. Relief workers and volunteers should also be aware of these risks as they rebuild or pick up materials in the wake of a storm or natural disaster. Both firefighters and relief workers should wash off their bodies and clothing before going home at the end of the day as to not bring harmful toxins into the home.

Mechanics and Automotive workers – Asbestos was widely used in brake pads, brake linings and car parts throughout much of the 1970s. Today in the United States, car parts are in the minority of materials that still include asbestos. Replacing brake pads and other materials could lead to accidental exposure for those who work as mechanics or manufacturing car products. To avoid unnecessary exposure, it is important for mechanics who work closely with these materials to wear the proper safety garments and use ready-to-install products when possible rather than altering materials that could lead to friable asbestos, meaning the toxin is easily damaged and turned to powder.

Monitoring Health and Symptoms

In the past, workers were heavily exposed to asbestos in mines, shipyards and in the military. Naval vessels were also known to be places of highly concentrated levels of the dangerous mineral. While employees and service members in these areas are less likely to be exposed to asbestos today, those who formerly worked in these positions should monitor their health closely. Symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to develop in the body, so communicating work history with a family physician is important. Mesothelioma can also be easily misdiagnosed due to the vague nature of the symptoms. Veterans and former miners should be especially watchful of their health and keep up on annual doctor’s visits. For patients with lung cancer and mesothelioma, early detection is extremely important, so catching these cancers in the early stages can help with treatment options and a patient’s quality of life.

The article was written by Molly McGuane Communications Specialist at the MAA Center.

by Editor

Monday, December 17th, 2018 at 15:59
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