Is your job a hazard to your health?

Decades ago our world relied on asbestos for materials and equipment throughout the industrial industry. It wasn’t until the sixties that medical professionals began to noticethe life threatening effects behind this mineral. This toxin is linked to several respiratory issues and is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that leaves patients with an extremely poor prognosis. The long-latency period is of most concern because symptoms can take up to fifty years to surface and are often misdiagnosed.This could result in being diagnosed at the final stage where survival rate is unfortunately low.

Today, many professionals still work with materials that contain this carcinogen and may be unaware of the need to monitor their health in order to catch an asbestos-related disease before it spreads to other parts of the body. With this mineral being mined for over a century, Australia reached the highest rate of asbestos use in the fifties and has one the highest rates of malignant mesothelioma around the world. Common products that have used this substance include tiles, plaster, insulation, boilers, furnaces, and fireproof clothing. Although we can’t control the use of this harmful toxin in our environment, we can raise awareness on how to prevent exposure in our everyday lives.

Who is at high-risk?

Historically, those who work in construction have developed a reputation for using countless materials containing asbestos on the job. Because this carcinogen was so common in building equipment, anyone who lives in a home or building constructed before the eighties is at risk of exposure. In addition, the military is considered to be at high-risk with veterans comprising around one-third of mesothelioma diagnosis. Other susceptible occupations include demolition crews, insulators, mechanics, electricians, plant workers, shipyard workers, firefighters and many more.

Not only has this toxin been known to be in industrial equipment, but it has even made its way into protective clothing. Firefighters are a prime example of workers required to wear safety gear, however, many of these products contain asbestos due to its ability to resist high temperatures. Workers may bring their clothes, supplies, or safety gear home which can be hazardous to their family and friends lungs. Even if you do not work in a high-risk position, there is potential for secondhand exposure through an exposed worker’s hair, clothes, or equipment.

How will exposure affect my health?

There are strict laws on how to handle asbestos since this mineral does not pose a threat until it has been disturbed. Once these fibers are released into the air they can be easily inhaled and cause chronic damage to your lungs. If you think you may have been exposed, it’s important to

notify your physician in order to detect symptoms early on. Here are the most concerning health risks that may arise years after exposure:

● Lung cancer is linked to long-term exposure to asbestos and most patients are diagnosed at least a decade after initial contact with the substance. There is an increased risk for those who are regularly exposed and smoke tobacco products.

● Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that occurs from long-term exposure. Over time, these harmful fibers accumulate in the lungs and cause the tissue lining to scar. This scarring results in shortness of breath and is often associated with the future development of mesothelioma.

● Mesothelioma can develop in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 70-90% of new diagnosis, making it the most common and studied form of the cancer. Majority of cases originate from workplace exposure however any amount of exposure is considered dangerous.

Solutions we can count on

WorkSafe has recently announced their decision to implement a new inspection program that focuses on stricter regulations for occupational exposure within plants and industrial equipment. This movement began after asbestos was found within imported friction plates of rail carriages, which raised the question of how many more products have used this carcinogen? Although Australia banned this mineral in 2003, it still exists in older equipment and numerous countries continue to import asbestos-containing material. WorkSafe’s mission is to prevent the importation of asbestos-containing material throughout Australia’s workforce, and to ultimately reduce the amount of people affected by an asbestos-related disease. Australia continues to provide hope around the globe and serve as a role model after not only establishing a complete ban on asbestos, but continuing to remove what’s left of the toxin in our environment.

Protect your future health

If you suspect that asbestos is present in your workplace, you should look into safety guidelines and equipment in order to protect your lungs. You can also contact your employer’s health and safety department or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration for more information on prevention or an inspection. To reduce exposure for your loved ones please take proper safety precautions such as, shower and change out of exposed clothing before you return home. It’s extremely important to never take matters into your own hands and to contact a professional who can safely remove asbestos and protect the public from exposure. Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up and let your doctor know if you suspect you have been exposed as symptoms can be overlooked and early detection is crucial to dealing with any asbestos-related disease. The detrimental health effects behind asbestos can be prevented if we make a conscious effort to be aware of where this hidden toxin in our world today.

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