For decades, asbestos was commonly used in many industries. Due to known health risks, the United States regulated the mineral in the 1980s. Still, workers in certain industries may be at risk for ongoing asbestos exposure. For example, construction workers face exposure risks from old buildings and products. Years later, this exposure may lead to the development of diseases including mesothelioma.
Various government agencies have created guidelines to help protect workers from asbestos. Following these safety precautions may limit workplace asbestos exposure. At-risk workers should also speak to a mesothelioma doctor about asbestos disease prevention. These doctors can watch for any symptoms and perform tests if needed.
Which Jobs Have a High Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestos is durable and has a natural resistance to heat and corrosion. Due to this, the mineral was popular in many industries until the regulations of the 1980s. Old products and buildings may still contain asbestos. Workers facing some of the heaviest ongoing exposure risks include:
- Construction workers who may remodel or repair older buildings with asbestos materials
- Insulators who may remove or handle asbestos-containing insulation
- Firefighters who may fight fires in older buildings with disturbed asbestos materials
- Mechanics who may repair or replace asbestos-containing parts
- Shipyard workers who may restore or repair ships and equipment made with asbestos
Asbestos exposure does not only pose health risks to these workers. Their families may also be at risk of secondary exposure and related diseases. Workers and their family members should speak to a doctor about any asbestos concerns.
How Can Workers Limit Exposure to Asbestos?
Since asbestos regulations began, agencies have set various standards for asbestos safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees workplace asbestos standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also enforces asbestos practices.
There are OSHA requirements that all employers must meet when there is asbestos present. These requirements include establishing regulated areas and providing personal protective equipment (PPE). OSHA has also outlined various safety practices workers should follow when handling asbestos.
General Safety Practices That May Reduce Workplace Asbestos Exposure
- Do not use air compressors, leaf blowers or other similar tools.
- Do not wear or bring work gear home.
- Follow OSHA and EPA standards for asbestos material disposal.
- Shower completely after activities that may involve asbestos exposure.
- Wear an appropriate respirator, as there are different types.
- Wear PPE for any activities that may lead to asbestos exposure.
- Wet any asbestos-containing material before removal.
Besides these general asbestos guidelines, there are specific standards for some occupations. For instance, construction workers face a higher exposure risk than many other jobs. OSHA has created a set of standards for this industry, titled 1926.1101 – Asbestos. It contains sections such as Asbestos Spill/Emergency Cleanup and General Monitoring Criteria.
Workers with heavy exposure risks should also discuss preventative measures with their doctors. They may be able to provide further information.
What Are the Warning Signs of Mesothelioma?
Early mesothelioma symptoms may often include chest pain and shortness of breath. In many cases, these symptoms may be present for months before patients seek medical care. Depending on the type of mesothelioma that develops, symptoms may vary.
Common symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of body parts, including abdomen and limbs
Workers at high risk of asbestos exposure should not ignore these symptoms, even if they are mild. These individuals should discuss any new symptoms with a doctor as soon as possible.
Can Doctors Watch for Mesothelioma Symptoms?
Anyone who may experience workplace asbestos exposure should speak with their medical provider. Individuals do not need to wait until they have symptoms to do so. Discussing asbestos exposure with a doctor before experiencing symptoms may also have benefits.
In some cases, a doctor may perform tests to ensure there are no early health concerns. For example, 115 Texas firefighters were potentially exposed to asbestos during a fire. As a precaution, doctors took chest X-rays to set a health baseline. This allows them to look for small changes that may have otherwise been easy to miss.
Following asbestos protocols during work activities may help limit exposure. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, though. Anyone with past or current asbestos exposure should speak with a doctor. Medical providers may provide preventative guidance and monitor any developing health concerns. This approach may lead to earlier disease detection and treatment.