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Asbestos Toolbox Talk

In this toolbox talk, learn about the dangers of asbestos in construction, its health effects, and how to keep your crew safe.

Asbestos Safety Talk

From the 1930s until the 1970s, asbestos was commonly used as a building material in home construction because of its durability and high resistance to heat and chemicals.

After much research, it was revealed that exposure to asbestos causes several sever negative health effects. Many people know that asbestos is dangerous, but they may not understand how or why.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals that are resistant to heat, corrosion, and some chemicals. Asbestos has been used in many building materials such as pipes, steam lines, floor tiles, plaster, and roofing materials. It can even be found in some vehicle parts, including brakes and clutches.

Asbestos was used primarily because it is abundant and can easily be found in mineral deposits around the world. It is also fibrous and is easy to work with, as well as durable.

Asbestos health effects

It's important to understand why asbestos is harmful to our health. According to the International Agency on Research for Cancer, all forms of asbestos are listed as "carcinogenic to humans."

A carcinogen is defined as an agent or substance that is capable of causing cancer. Asbestos is considered a carcinogen because of the effects the asbestos fibers can have on the human lungs. The fibers are too small to be seen by the human eyes, and once they become airborne they stay suspended in the air. When they are breathed in, they can make their way past our bodies' natural defenses and can get into the tissue of our lungs. Once this occurs, scar tissue forms, reducing lung function.

Breathing in asbestos fibers can eventually lead to disability or even death. A common deadly illness caused by asbestos is mesothelioma. Some people that have been exposed may not even realize for decades that they are experiencing side effects.

asbestos caution tape.

Symptoms of asbestos exposure

Breathing in asbestos fibers over many years can eventually cause scarring of the lungs, called asbestosis. It can sometimes take 20-30 years before symptoms appear.

Symptoms include:

  1. Shortness of breath

  2. Persistent cough

  3. Wheezing

  4. Fatigue or extreme tiredness

  5. Pain in chest and/or shoulders

  6. In extreme cases even clubbed fingertips

If you are experiencing symptoms of asbestosis, and you think you may have been exposed, you should contact a doctor immediately. The doctor can listen to your lungs and will ask about your work history. They may eventually refer you to a lung specialist for more tests if asbestos is is suspected to be the cause. These tests can include a chest x-ray, CT scan of the lungs, and a lung function test.

Tips for working with asbestos

When working with or around existing building materials, you should be aware which ones can contain asbestos, and you should know what asbestos looks like. This information is important, because you should not disturb these materials.

Many workplaces and homes still contain asbestos, which are generally harmless if left in place. Once disturbed, they can create airborne fibers that are harmful. If a product contains asbestos you should never smash, break, cut, grind, or disturb the product in any way. If you see dust from materials that contain asbestos, you should avoid sweeping and cleaning up this dust, which can also release the fibers into the air.

The safe removal and handling of asbestos is vital in preventing dangerous exposure. If you have any asbestos-containing materials that have been disturbed and are beginning to break down, they would need to be properly sealed or abated by a professional.

What to do if you’ve been exposed to asbestos

If you think that you have been exposed to asbestos the first thing you should do is contact your doctor. They will help you determine your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

Most of the people who develop asbestos-related illnesses were exposed to the material on a regular basis. Very rarely does a one-time exposure cause diseases. The diseases associated with asbestos take many years to develop with most people not having the symptoms for years later.

If the doctor knows you have been exposed but you are not experiencing any symptoms at the time, they may want to monitor you for the time being.

Treatment for asbestos

There is no cure for asbestosis once it has developed. It is not possible to reverse the damage to the lungs.

However, some treatments can help, such as:

  1. Pulmonary rehabilitation

  2. Oxygen therapy

  3. Inhalers

It is also important to stop smoking if you are diagnosed with asbestosis, because this can increase the risk of lung cancer significantly. It is also important to see your doctor regularly and get your flu vaccines and the pneumococcal vaccine, because your lungs are most vulnerable to these types of infections.

Complications of asbestosis

Many complications come along with having asbestosis. It can lead to lung cancer as well as laryngeal cancer. Other complications include blue color on lips and fingers, pulmonary hypertension, and failure of the right side of the heart.

Primarily we hear about asbestos causing cancer because it attacks the lung tissue, but cardiopulmonary failure can also happen.

Most of the world still has exposure to the carcinogens from asbestos. The exposure in developed countries has decreased over time, but it is still there. In the United States cases of cancers such as mesothelioma are still being diagnosed. This is due to individuals having been exposed decades ago and not realizing the dangers of it at the time.

Asbestos safety starts with you

It is important to remember to protect yourself and do not disturb any materials that you think may contain asbestos. If you come in contact with asbestos, it's best to be safe. Call your foreman to let him know you may have come in contact and seek the proper medical care if necessary.

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