Due to its sturdiness and ability to resist heat, asbestos was once known as the “miracle material.” Now, it’s notorious for causing health issues.
About 20 years ago, OSHA began to heavily regulate asbestos after health professionals recognized the dangers of working with it. With microscopic particles that can be released into the air, the material causes lung tissue scarring upon inhalation. In fact, when disturbed, asbestos releases dust fibers more than 100 times thinner than human hair.
Once inhaled, those fibers never actually dissolve. Instead, they lodge themselves in organs and body tissues. That leads to benign and malignant illnesses that develop 20-50 years after exposure. However, symptoms may occur much sooner, depending on exposure levels.
Asbestos exposure leads to many different diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Diagnosis rates for mesothelioma, or cancer directly causedc by asbestos, remain consistent – about 3,000 people each year in the United States. Those statistics show that the problem simply isn’t going away.
Though it’s regulated in the United States, asbestos is not banned from use. And, a surprising amount of industries continue to use the material.
Let’s break it down.
Occupations Most Affected By Asbestos
From consumer goods, such as baby powder, to old buildings, asbestos still pops up in the headlines.
It’s a pervasive threat for workers in certain occupations, such as construction and manufacturing.
These five occupations face a higher risk of exposure to asbestos:
Asbestos remains in millions of old buildings across the United States due to the building boom throughout the 20th century. That puts firefighters in a very unique and dangerous position when it comes to asbestos exposure.
Firefighters are 2.29 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general public. And, about 70 percent of all line-of-duty deaths occur as a result of cancer in general. That’s because, when a building burns, asbestos-related materials release intense amounts of toxic mineral fibers into the air. Also, any ashes and soot left behind may contain asbestos.
What’s worse is that the asbestos exposure continues even after firefighters leave a fire scene – it sticks to clothes, vehicles and equipment
Before the 1980s, it was common practice to add asbestos to building materials — drywall, concrete, tiles, spackle, and shingles were all made with the toxic substance.
So when it comes to older buildings, asbestos can be inside the walls, literally. This creates a massive exposure risk during construction as installing, removing, or replacing these materials can release toxic fibers into the air.
That puts demolition crews and home renovators at highest risk for asbestos exposure. Also, roofing and flooring materials still contain the material, so new construction also remains an issue.https://www.asbestos.com/occupations/
It’s estimated that 25 percent of all people who die from asbestosis worked in the construction industry.
Although production of asbestos-containing products and materials has slowed, factory workers are still at risk of exposure.
The manufacturing and use of asbestos products are still permitted, as long as they meet certain federal guidelines. Small workplaces and poor ventilation can exacerbate the issue.
Additionally, older production machinery — such as grinding machines — and conveyor belts were made with asbestos. So, as machines wear down from constant use, asbestos particles enter the air.
Most buildings in the first half of the 20th century were created with asbestos materials — and ships were no different.
With fire-retardant and insulating properties, asbestos was the go-to material for shipbuilding. Now that we are aware of the hazards of the substance, exposure is most likely to occur during ship maintenance.
According to a 2017 study published in the Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, shipyard workers who experienced a moderate level of asbestos exposure were almost four times more likely to die of mesothelioma.
Asbestos was used in many locomotive parts, such as boilers, engines, pipes and electrical panels.
While this sounds similar to how asbestos has affected other occupations, railroad workers top this list due to the negligence of some railroad companies.
When OSHA limited the use of asbestos-made products, many railroad companies continued to use the substance while concealing its danger from employees. As a result, many of those companies filed bankruptcy and established trust funds to pay for workers’ compensation over the past few decades.
Exposure remains a risk for railroad workers whose companies still use locomotive parts manufactured before 1980.
Medical Surveillance & On-Site Asbestos Physicals
If you employ workers in one of the high-risk occupations listed above, you’ll need to create a comprehensive medical surveillance plan.
The asbestos physical consists of:
- Comprehensive Medical Exam
- Work and Medical History Review
- Chest X-Ray with B Reader
- Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) with Blood Pressure
- OSHA Respirator Medical Questionnaire
- Any laboratory test that the examining physician deems necessary upon review of medical exam results and medical work history
You must make the physical available annually, with the exception of the chest x-ray, which is conducted every five years within the first ten years of exposure. After ten years, the frequency of the x-ray depends on the age of the employee.
Also, you’ll need to keep accurate records of exposure measurements for at least 30 years.
It may sound complex, but we’re here to help make it simple. With Worksite Medical, you can schedule on-site asbestos physicals at your convenience, whether you need them all at once or in shifts. And, we maintain accurate records for your entire team.
Additionally, we perform respirator fit testing, vision exams, and audiometric exams. Save time, increase your productivity, and limit the risk of sending your team away from the job site for testing.
Schedule today, or request your free quote by completing the form below, or by calling 1-844-622-8633.
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