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Workplace Safety: Preventing Hazardous Exposure to Asbestos

Safety is a concern innate to many and cannot be reverse engineered. Between parents protecting children, law enforcement, first responders, and the federal regulations in place to safe-guard citizens nationwide — precautions are intended to reduce the risk of and prevent exposure to harmful toxins, chemicals and carcinogens that lead to occupational disease such as silicosis, asbestosis, skin disease, mesothelioma cancer, lung disease, infectious disease, heat disorder, tendinitis and more. Although federal law dictates outlaw on use of carcinogens that cause these occupational diseases, there are many toxins and carcinogens that are not entirely banned, such as asbestos.

The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) banned asbestos from being included in certain types of products. However, other manufactured products are able to contain up to one percent of asbestos, not to mention the near 200 long list of other chemicals detailed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Basis of OSHA carcinogens. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to ensure that workers with potential of being exposed to asbestos and other toxins, participate in initial training programs and refresher courses annually.

This month, in observation of Healthy Lung Month, we spoke with the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center to share insights on how to keep safe from asbestos and prevent first and second hand exposure.


What is Asbestos?

 Asbestos is an entirely natural, fibrous silicate mineral that comes in six different forms. Each type shares similar properties of fibrous, fire-resistant nature. These properties are what lead asbestos to become a highly mined and consumed natural resource, which despite knowledge of the health ramifications associated with asbestos exposure, its use heightened in the 1930s-1970s, with peak use in 1973. During this year, the United States alone found over 3,000 consumer products containing asbestos as well as having consumed 800,000 tons of asbestos through imports and manufacturing.

It wasn’t until the1960s, researchers concluded in scientifically proving that asbestos was the cause of mesothelioma cancer. Researchers found that when asbestos fibers become disturbed, damaged, airborne, inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become lodged in the delicate pleura lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Once lodged, the fibers can aggravate the body and develop scar tissue that can eventually evolve into tumors 10-50 years following exposure. Depending on the area of the body that asbestos fibers penetrate, either pleural, pericardial or peritoneal mesothelioma can develop, however there are other respiratory health concerns associated with asbestos such as asbestosis, asbestos warts, lung cancer, pleural effusion, pleural plaque, pneumothorax and more.


What You Should Know About Asbestos in the Workplace

 Asbestos is the leading cause of occupational cancer in the United States, making awareness and training crucial to the well-being of many and especially those with high risk occupations. The table below lists occupations that are likely to develop occupation-related diseases by industry.

As it relates to occupational asbestos exposure, mechanics, plant workers, firefighters, first responders, electricians, engineers, machinists, plumbers, blacksmiths, hairdressers (secondhand exposure) and construction, manufacturing, railroad, HVAC, Sheet Metal, and shipyard workers, are all considered to be occupations at high risk of being exposed to asbestos.

Protecting workers firsthand and friends and family members from secondhand exposure, are equally important as there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Worksites are often monitored to ensure that workers are not exposed to asbestos or other toxins above the standard Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). To avoid the potential of future health risks and disease, employees working with or around asbestos are mandated to receive adequate training of asbestos and other harmful toxins.

All asbestos containing worksites must be properly and visibly marked as such, with signage demonstrating the risks and dangers associated with exposure. Signs must also be understood by all and workers in asbestos-prone or environments containing asbestos above PEL, must be medically examined.


Hope for Those with Asbestos and Occupational-Related Disease

Workers at risk of developing occupational or asbestos-related disease may obtain required medical surveillance for up to 30 years or more, in order to detect disease early on. Many occupational or asbestos related diseases, such as mesothelioma, may not show signs or symptoms until it’s advanced significantly, making these surveillances imperative to improving quality of life, even survival. The World Health Organization provides detailed insight into how important early detection of occupational disease is.

Today, about 10 million people are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis each year, about 4.7 million others have been diagnosed with emphysema and about 25 million more live with asthma. Occupational lung diseases also affect many Americans and are estimated to cost up to $150 billion annually. This Healthy Lung Month, discuss the safety of your workplace, obtain any necessary training to keep safe, discuss health concerns with your doctor, learn more about Healthy Lung Month and situational workplace awareness.

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