Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can cause a serious health risk to those who are exposed to it. When asbestos is removed or disturbed, the tiny fibers become airborne causing exposure to your employees who work around it. These small fibers are invisible to the naked eye, but when inhaled can accumulate in and cause scarring to the lungs and that is when it becomes dangerous. Employees who are exposed are also at risk of getting cancer.
The federal government declared a moratorium on asbestos production in the early 1970s. Installation of these products continued into the early 1980s. The use of asbestos in new construction projects has been banned in many developed countries, but not the United States.
What your employees need to know about asbestos
Asbestos is often found in buildings during renovations or demolitions. It's also used in other products such as insulation, fireproofing, and roofing materials. To be a significant health concern, asbestos fibers must be inhaled over an extended period of time. However, as long as asbestos containing materials are not disturbed or damaged, the fibers do not become airborne and do not pose a health threat.
Any construction worker can be exposed to asbestos when working on a building. Those most at risk include:
- Sheet metal workers
The most common asbestos-related diseases include:
- Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung tissue. Asbestosis is a slowly progressive disease, taking 15 to 30 years to fully manifest.
- Mesothelioma is a type of cancer, thought to be exclusively related to asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma may take 20 to 50 years to develop; but in rare cases, it can manifest in as little as 15 years after exposure.
- Lung cancer is a malignant tumor in the lungs. The time between exposure to asbestos and the occurrence of lung cancer may take 15 to 35 years after exposure. It should be noted that there is a multiplying effect between smoking and asbestos exposure.
Symptoms of exposure may not happen right away and sometimes it takes years for the symptoms to develop. Some symptoms can include shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, and chest tightness.