The construction industry is comprised of many different trades, from general laborers and equipment operators to carpenters and plumbers. According to most research, these are considered some of the most dangerous land-based occupations due to the risks workers face on a daily basis. Contractors often deal with heavy lifting, falls and trips, and dangerous machinery, but tradesman may face even further health complications.
Contractors may unknowingly be exposing themselves to hazardous toxins while on the job. Although a majority of the danger occurs from falling or heavy objects, exposure to toxins like asbestos is a serious reality for construction workers. Global Asbestos Awareness Week, which runs from April 1-7, provides an opportunity to learn more about asbestos and preventive measures.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos was widely mined, manufactured, and distributed around the world throughout the mid-20th century because of its impressive insulating properties. At one time, asbestos was known as a “miracle material.” It was popular in the construction of homes and buildings for its resistance to heat and chemical reactions. Because asbestos was so widely used prior to 1980, it’s likely the mineral can still be found in products and materials throughout older homes and buildings. The toxin was often used in ceilings, flooring, siding, insulation, and adhesives, and workers who come into contact with these asbestos-containing materials can be at risk.
Despite government regulations, asbestos is still imported from other countries into the United States. Though many uses of asbestos have been banned, the fibrous mineral can still be found in common construction materials produced and utilized today, such as specific types of insulation and roofing shingles. The construction industry has one of the highest rates of exposure, as more than 1.3 million construction workers come into contact with asbestos-containing materials each year.
Why is Asbestos Dangerous?
Health risks associated with asbestos exposure were known as far back as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until decades later that regulations were put into place to limit exposure. The material is difficult to detect, has no smell or taste, and does not immediately irritate the eyes, nose, or throat. But if the fibers are inhaled, they become embedded in the lining of the internal organs, potentially leading to serious health implications like mesothelioma.
Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, is the most common form of the cancer. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and fluid buildup. Because its symptoms are similar to other less critical and more common illnesses, the cancer is often misdiagnosed. As a result, mesothelioma is usually detected in its later stages, leading to poor prognosis. Due to occupational exposure, the construction industry accounted for roughly 15 percent of mesothelioma deaths in 1999.
Safeguarding Occupational Health
Asbestos is not yet banned in the United States and is still prevalent in the workplace, but many government regulations and laws have been established to better protect workers from exposure. One of the first federal agencies to develop worker protections against asbestos was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As a result of OSHA regulations, there are basic standards to ensure worker protection regarding how asbestos is handled and removed.
Furthermore, employers might consider third-party tools to help reduce their risk. Software like HCSS Safety, a safety program designed specifically for the construction industry, can assist with recording, reporting, and documenting work-related health hazards like harmful toxins. Workers should also be mindful of aging buildings and materials known to contain the toxin. If asbestos is suspected, it is important to report concerns with your employer.
Exposure to even the smallest amount of asbestos is considered unsafe, so it is crucial for employers to stay current on ways to keep workers healthy. Following existing worker protection laws and ensuring employees are aware of dangerous toxins like asbestos could help mitigate future risk.
To learn more about how HCSS Safety can help your workers stay safer in the field, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-683-3196.