Workers Memorial Day: Understanding Occupational Toxin Exposure and Lung Diseases .




For those who work in certain hazardous occupations, it is important to understand the toxins they could be exposed to on the job. For example, certain career fields could leave workers exposed to carcinogenic materials like asbestos. Understanding these exposures and ways to protect your body are important for those with at-risk occupations. April 28th is the day we recognize as Workers Memorial Day and remember those we’ve unfortunately lost from exposure to hazards associated with their jobs.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of fibers that can easily become airborne if products and materials containing the toxin are disturbed. Due to its uniquely microscopic structure, asbestos fibers can become lodged in the lining of the abdomen, heart cavity or lungs. Asbestos is highly toxic and can cause a number of illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. While anyone can come into contact with asbestos in their daily lives, people who work in certain industries are much more likely to come into contact with the mineral regularly, putting them at a higher risk to inhale the fibers.

Occupations Affected by Asbestos

Many occupations could have led to asbestos exposure over the years, mainly because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) didn’t begin regulating the use of the carcinogenic mineral until the 1970s. For decades it was common for asbestos to be included in a wide array of building and consumer products because it is fire-resistant, strong, versatile and doesn’t react with chemicals. For those reasons, construction workers and firefighters are among the most likely to be at risk of asbestos exposure today.

Construction is one of the most hazardous land-based occupations. Although asbestos use today across North America is much more limited, it still lingers in hundreds of thousands of older homes, office buildings and schools in the United States. Many construction workers, electricians, tile setters, and even house painters are still highly at risk.

Firefighters also frequently come into contact with airborne asbestos during the initial stages of extinguishing a fire. As a result of exposure to asbestos and other toxins, firefighters have also been shown to develop long-term issues like lingering coughs, asthma and throat hoarseness.

One of the primary dangers of asbestos exposure is the development of mesothelioma. This rare cancer affects approximately 3,000 people every year in the United States. Due to how rare it is, this disease is oftentimes overlooked during diagnosis.

Prevention Tips

The best way to avoid asbestos-related lung diseases is to limit the amount of time you’re exposed to the substance. Undisturbed asbestos-containing materials don’t ordinarily pose a threat, but if those items become damaged, eroded or broken, the threat of fibers becoming airborne becomes a problem.

To be safe, find out what year a property was built before doing any extreme renovations. Any structure built before the 1980s most likely harbors asbestos. If you think the mineral is present, it’s best to hire out a contractor and have it removed professionally. If you work in an industry where you’re likely to come into contact with asbestos, talk to your supervisor and make sure you’re taking the proper safety measures to prevent unnecessary exposure.

When to See a Doctor

The first step to taking care of your health is knowing what jobs are affected by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma often goes undiagnosed for far too long because the disease’s symptoms are incredibly hard to detect, and patients only start to show symptoms 20-50 years after exposure. Symptoms can include excessive fatigue, difficulty breathing and swallowing, fever and night sweats. It’s common to also experience chest pain, chronic coughing, and pleural effusion, which is a buildup of fluid in the lining of the lungs. Despite how difficult mesothelioma is to diagnose, countless studies have proven the importance of early detection.

Remembering Those We’ve Lost

According to the National Safety Council, nearly every 7 seconds someone is injured on the job. For any job, be it Alaskan King Crab fishing or automotive repair, there are always safety precautions to be aware of that can limit the potential of harming yourself and your colleagues.

Every day, men and women go to work and face the potential of dangerous accidents or toxicants. There people often go uncelebrated and memorialized, so during the month of April it’s important to take time to honor those who succumbed to diseases associated with their occupation. This year for Workers Memorial Day, America’s Unions are calling to highlight the unnecessary injuries illnesses, and even death. To support their endeavours, make sure your colleagues are familiar with the risks associated with their jobs, and take precautions to prevent them.