Asbestos Dangers Toolbox Talk

Keep your crews safe and informed about the dangers of asbestos in construction.

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Asbestos Dangers Safety Talk

Asbestos is a material that was used in building materials because of its durability and high resistance to heat and chemicals from the 1930s until the 1970s. It was widely used during home construction. It is still used today but after much research, it was revealed it had many negative health effects. Some people know that asbestos is dangerous but others do not understand how it is dangerous or why it is.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals that are resistant to heat, corrosion, and some chemicals. It 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 because it was abundant and could easily be found in mineral deposits around the world. It is also fibrous and is easy to work with as well as durable.

How Asbestos Affects Health Negatively

Asbestos is harmful to our health but you may not understand why. 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 tends to cause cancer. It 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 get 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 and this will reduce the function of our lungs.

Breathing in the 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.

Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure

Breathing in asbestos fibers over many years can eventually cause scarring of the lungs. It can sometimes take 20-30 years before you even begin to notice some symptoms appear.

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue or extreme tiredness
  • Pain in chest and/or shoulders
  • In extreme cases even clubbed fingertips
  • If you are experiencing symptoms of asbestos and you think you may have been exposed you should contact a doctor. The doctor can listen to your lungs and will ask about your work history. They may eventually refer you out to a lung specialist for more tests if asbestosis 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 around building materials you should know which ones can contain asbestos and you should know what it looks like. This information is so important to know because you do not want to disturb the materials.

    There are still many materials in our workplace and our homes that can contain asbestos. Unless they are being disturbed the materials are harmless to us. 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 the dust from materials that contain asbestos you should avoid sweeping and cleaning up this dust. This can also release the fibers into the air.

    The safe removal and handling of asbestos is vital in preventing dangerous exposures. 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 Happens 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. Some treatments can help, such as:

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Inhalers
  • It is also important if you are diagnosed with asbestosis that you stop smoking as this can increase the risk of lung cancer. It is also important to see your doctor 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 and 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.

    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 any materials that contain asbestosis, be safe. Call your foreman to let them know you may have come in contact and get the proper medical care.

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