High Risk Jobs for Asbestos Exposure

  • March 22, 2024

Understanding Asbestos: What is it and why is it dangerous?

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals composed of thin, needle-like fibers. Exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health implications, including various forms of cancer. The most common diseases related to asbestos exposure are typically asbestos-related lung diseases and mesothelioma. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become permanently lodged into the body tissue which can cause inflammation and lead to the development of harmful diseases. These related health issues may not appear until many years after the initial exposure, making it an insidious danger.

The medical community has widely recognized the health risks of asbestos, particularly its potential to cause cancer. Asbestos fibers are durable, resistant to heat, and have insulating properties, which is why they were commonly used in various industries until the mid-twentieth century. However, when these fibers are disturbed or damaged, they can be released into the air, becoming a hazard to anyone in the vicinity.

Historical uses of Asbestos across different industries

Historically, asbestos has been used across various industries, primarily due to its strength, resistance to heat and chemicals, and affordability. Asbestos was commonly used in construction, shipbuilding, and automotive manufacturing. In the construction industry, asbestos was used for building insulation, roofing shingles, flooring, and wallboards. The shipbuilding industry used asbestos for insulating boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry also used asbestos in clutch pads and brake shoes.

Despite its practical uses, the widespread utilization of asbestos has led to many health tragedies. Prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to lung disease and cancer. Due to the latency period of asbestos-related diseases, many people who were exposed in the 1970s and 1980s are just now being diagnosed.

Health implications of Asbestos exposure

Asbestos exposure can produce various health issues, primarily affecting the lungs. The inhaled fibers can cause diseases such as asbestosis (scarring of lung tissues), lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Exposure can also lead to pleural plaques (calcification of the areas surrounding the lungs and diaphragm).

In many cases, symptoms may not surface for decades – it’s not uncommon for mesothelioma symptoms to appear 20 to 50 years after initial exposure. Moreover, asbestos-related diseases are often aggressive and challenging to treat, further emphasizing the importance of understanding asbestos hazards and preventing exposure whenever possible.

Regulations and policies related to Asbestos use

Around the mid-20th century, once the link between asbestos and lung diseases was widely acknowledged, regulations and policies were introduced to control its use. Many countries worldwide, including the UK, Australia, and South Africa banned asbestos entirely due to the known health implications.

In the United States, the use of asbestos is heavily regulated rather than completely banned. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have set strict standards for permissible asbestos levels in the workplace and requirements for protective gear if exposure is inevitable.

The top 5 at-risk occupations for Asbestos exposure

Several occupations are especially at risk for asbestos exposure. The top five are construction workers, shipyard workers, industrial workers, firefighters, and power plant workers. Construction workers are at risk because of the widespread use of asbestos in building materials. Shipyard workers may be exposed while repairing or retrofitting ships built with asbestos-containing materials. Industrial workers may encounter asbestos in factories where asbestos-containing products were made, while firefighters and power plant workers could be exposed during fires or routine work in buildings containing asbestos.

Detailed analysis: Construction Workers and Asbestos

Globally, construction workers are among the occupations with the highest risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos-containing materials were extensively used in construction until the dangers became apparent, and many older buildings still contain these materials. Workers involved in renovations, demolitions, or refurbishments of such buildings are particularly at risk, as these activities can release asbestos fibers into the air.

Detailed analysis: Shipyard Workers and Asbestos

As shipyard workers are involved in the construction, repair, and maintenance of ships, they are at high risk of being exposed to asbestos, especially when working on older vessels. Insulation containing asbestos was commonly used in ships’ boilers, engines, and steam pipes. Therefore, shipbuilders, repairers, and maintainers are likely to come into contact with these materials and could be at risk of inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers.

Detailed analysis: Firefighters and Asbestos

Firefighters are at risk of asbestos exposure due to the nature of their work. Asbestos was commonly used in the insulation of older buildings. When these buildings catch fire, asbestos fibers can be released into the air. If the firefighters don’t have proper protective gear or if the gear is damaged, they can inhale these dangerous fibers.

Detailed analysis: Industrial Workers and Asbestos

Industrial workers can be exposed to asbestos through a variety of materials used on-site. These can include asbestos sheeting, insulating materials, automotive parts, and certain manufacturing equipment. Processes such as grinding, drilling, and other machinery operations can release asbestos fibers into the air, putting workers at risk.

Preventing Asbestos exposure: Safety measures to implement

For preventing asbestos exposure, safety measures should focus on minimizing contact with asbestos, especially in at-risk occupations. Workers in these occupations should always have access to appropriate protective equipment, such as respirators and protective clothing. Regular training should be given to workers to educate them about the hazards of asbestos and how to reduce exposure. Buildings that contain asbestos should be regularly inspected and managed by professionals to ensure the safe containment or removal of asbestos-containing materials.


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