Protecting Yourself From Asbestos Exposure In The Workplace

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that are characterized by their long, thin fibers. Inhalation of these fibers has been shown to cause serious damage to the lung tissue, especially after prolonged exposure. Although it is now a known carcinogen, and has been highly regulated since 1979, asbestos is still currently the largest source of occupational cancer in the United States.   

Due to both its insulation and fire resistant properties, asbestos was at one time widely used in home construction materials. Between 1930 and 1970, it was commonly used in building supplies such as insulation, roofing shingles, plaster and cement, ceiling and floor tiles, pipe insulation, and caulk. Asbestos can still be found in many older homes, leaving those who remodel, demolish, or handle debris from these homes at great risk for harmful exposure.

Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

When materials containing asbestos are disturbed, such as when older walls or flooring are torn out during a remodeling project, the fibers can be inhaled. Continued exposure to these fibers can build up in the lungs, resulting in inflammation and the possibility of lung cancer. There is no known safe level of exposure, but most complications are a result of prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers.

It may take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for symptoms from harmful asbestos exposure to show up. There are approximately 2,000 to 3,200 lung cancer deaths per year that are attributed to asbestos inhalation. Asbestos is also the primary cause of Mesothelioma, the cancer of the protective lining that surrounds the lungs. Mesothelioma can also affect the lining surrounding the abdominal cavity or the protective membrane outside of the heart. Asbestos exposure may also be linked to other cancers including lymphoma, leukemia and breast cancer.

Asbestos exposure can also result in other chronic lung disorders such as asbestosis (scarring of the lung tissue) and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Both of these illnesses can make breathing and proper oxygenation extremely difficult. While breathing treatments and medications are helpful, there is currently no cure for either one. That is why it is so important to be proactive, and protect yourself from unnecessary exposure to asbestos.

Protecting Yourself from the Hazards of Asbestos

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines and standards that must be followed to protect construction workers and other industry workers from the dangers attributed to asbestos exposure. However, those construction workers who are self-employed or do only small jobs on the side, may not be fully aware of these safety regulations, putting themselves at necessary precautionary procedures that are outlined by OSHA.

Asbestos fibers are very small and cannot be detected with the naked eye. For this reason, it is important for workers to use proper precautions, and handle all questionable materials like it contains asbestos. Since the hazardous fibers are introduced through inhalation, one of the most essential pieces of protective equipment is a properly fitted respirator. Fibers can also get on clothes while you are working and harm you or others, so it is necessary to wear protective clothing such as coveralls when working in high risk areas. This clothing should be taken off immediately at the end of the work day, and should be laundered separately to eliminate contamination. It is also important to not have any food, drink, tobacco product or cosmetic in the work area. All of these items could become tainted and introduce asbestos fibers into the body.

Asbestos exposure can easily be avoided with proper precautions and inspections by professionals, such as It is important for those working with materials that may contain asbestos to understand the very serious consequences, and work to keep everyone safe.