Heating, vent and air conditioning (HVAC) workers are able to find jobs in every city and town across the company. HVAC workers maintain, diagnose and repair, and replace air conditioning units in warmer climates, and utilize their training and experience to do the same for heating and venting systems in areas where the climate tends to be cooler. Of course, in regions where the climate is temperate, HVAC workers are likely to work on all three systems, even within a single building.
HVAC workers include those who clean the systems; these are the workers who have the least amount of training. HVAC service technicians require more education. Commercial HVAC workers often require even more knowledge - including certification training - as they work on larger, industrial-sized, heavier systems that create greater risk. Also, there are some HVAC workers who have little experience working directly with heating, venting and air conditioning systems once they have been installed; these workers focus on working with sheet metal to produce HVAC systems.
Some HVAC workers specialize in working in so-called sick buildings - buildings in which there are mold concerns and other risks. These workers face some health risks in the line of performing their jobs. Similarly, HVAC workers who work on heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in large, commercial buildings across the company may face risks as well. This is because working on older HVAC units, specifically those with pre-1970s HVAC duct insulation, can put an HVAC worker in contact with asbestos-containing materials.
Dangers at Work
While some occupations, such as high-rise construction worker, police officer, or stuntman, are associated with clear and well-understood dangers, we all understand that many jobs present a chance for some work-related injuries. Still, in today's society, people have come to expect that job-related dangers will be kept to a minimum, risks will be clearly explained, and companies will attempt to create a safe work environment. When it came to exposure to asbestos, however, this was not always the case, and a surprisingly short time ago people were placed in situations that put their lives at risk.
Asbestos and Its Effects on Human Health
Asbestos is divided into two types. The most frequently used was "white" asbestos, or the serpentine type. It is a fairly soft variety that is usually not associated with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma. Abrasions on the interior surfaces of the lungs may happen when chrysotile fibers are breathed in, however. Asbestosis can be the outcome when scar tissues accumulate in the pulmonary system.
Amphibole asbestos is the second type and is considered deadlier. Mesothelioma, a rare but frequently fatal disease affecting the mesothelium (the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity), is strongly linked with inhaling asbestos, particularly the amphibole varieties. Exposure to amphibole asbestos is also a cause of pericardial or peritoneal mesotheliomas, which affect tissue surrounding the heart and stomach, respectively.
Why Asbestos Was Used
Asbestos was, ironically, generally used because of its ability to safeguard human life. In terms of remaining unaffected by fire and high temperature, few things can equal asbestos, especially the serpentine form. Amphibole forms of asbestos also had other characteristics that made them useful in industry. For instance, amosite, also known as "brown" asbestos, has a high iron content, making it resistant to caustic chemicals. "Blue" asbestos, or crocidolite, is very good at insulating against electricity and was generally used whenever high voltage was an issue. Depending on the application, various types of fibers were combined to create ACMs (asbestos-containing materials) that safeguarded people and property against flames, extreme temperatures, electrocution and caustic chemicals.
As a rule, new items formed from asbestos were innocuous if the asbestos fibers were encapsulated in something solid. A disadvantage of ACMs, however, is that with time they are prone to becoming friable (i.e., easily reduced to powder by hand pressure alone). Friable asbestos is a problem because in this condition the particles are readily released into the environment; once they enter the body via inhalation or ingestion, they may cause various diseases. Unfortunately, it wasn't just HVAC workers who were in danger; secondary exposure frequently happened when workers brought asbestos dust home on their skin, in their hair or on their clothing.
Asbestos Exposure - a Hidden Danger
One of the insidious aspects of asbestos exposure is the resulting illnesses may take many, many years to develop - often decades after a worker has retired from the employer. The symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma - dyspnea (i.e., shortness of breath), chest pain and a persistent cough - may easily be confused with the symptoms of other disorders. Experimental ways to combat mesothelioma are being developed, and early detection gives the patient the highest chance of beating the previously always-fatal form of cancer. People that worked as heating, vent and air conditioning (HVAC) workers, and those who lived with them, should therefore notify their physicians about the possibility of asbestos exposure. While the mesothelioma survival rate is known to be grim, early diagnosis and treatments including mesothelioma radiation can increase the chance of a good prognosis for this disease.Sources
Article Blast - What is HVAC Training?
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Education Portal - HVAC Certification Career Options
eHow.com - About HVACs
PRLog - HVAC Workers: Show Me the Money, But Don't Stop There
The Refrigeration School, Inc (RSI) - HVAC and Refrigeration Workers: Curing Sick Building Syndrome in Phoenix, AZ
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal