When left alone and undisturbed, asbestos-containing materials don’t really pose an immediate threat to human health. However, asbestos can be pretty dangerous, especially when its fibers are exposed to the air where anyone can inhale them into their lungs. The scary thing about it is that effects from the exposure won’t usually start showing until about 20 to 50 years down the road.
Construction workers are among those whose professions put them at risk for exposure to this deadly substance, especially those who were in the construction industry prior to 1980 when asbestos was widely used in building materials and household products. This led to many workers developing mesothelioma as a result of the continuous exposure.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of mesothelial tissue, affecting the pleural (lung) or peritoneal (abdominal cavity) lining. It is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos, and is considered the most serious among all diseases caused by the substance. Diagnosing this aggressive disease, however, is a bit tricky as symptoms are often those that can also be associated with other types of ailments. Mesothelioma symptoms usually only start showing around 20 to 50 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.
Why are construction workers at risk for developing mesothelioma?
For mesothelioma to develop, the person would have to be exposed to asbestos fibers, which are microscopic in size and can be easily inhaled into the lungs where they can stay dormant in its linings.
Unfortunately, construction workers in the past used quite a number of products and materials that contained asbestos, thus exposing them to it. Buildings built before 1980 are most likely to have asbestos in its walls, insulation, and roofing materials. While asbestos does not really pose a huge threat when left alone, the asbestos fibers are released into the air once materials containing them are disturbed. As such, construction workers today still face risks when working on renovation projects or those that require the demolition of a part of a building that was constructed before 1980. Thousands of workers have met their deaths from diseases caused by repeated exposure to asbestos, including mesothelioma.
How can this be prevented?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), have both come up with various safety and health regulations over the years which aim to protect constructions workers from the dangers of asbestos. In spite of this, studies have shown that the risk for workers to be exposed to asbestos is still high. While asbestos is no longer as commonly used in construction materials as it used to be a few decades back, construction workers still run the risk for exposure whenever they work on old homes and buildings built before 1980.
To avoid workers from being affected with asbestos-related diseases, it is imperative that OSHA regulations are imposed, and that companies offer trainings to really drill the importance of asbestos safety to workers. The provision of proper protective equipment and clothing to workers who work closely with materials containing asbestos should also be strictly implemented.
Workplace safety is a collaborative effort between the company and its workers. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the job site is safe for employees to work in, and the employee’s responsibility to follow the rules and regulations set by the company as imposed by OSHA. Certifications, such as what can be received upon completion of the HAZWOPER training and Asbestos Safety courses, are necessary for construction workers in order to be properly equipped with the necessary knowledge to avoid situations that lead to developing mesothelioma and keep safe while at work.