September 26, 2018 | Frank MacDonald |

Understanding Occupation-Related Exposures and Lung Diseases

For those who work in certain hazardous occupations, it is important to understand the toxins you could be exposed to.

For example, certain occupations could leave workers exposed to asbestos.

Understanding these exposures and ways to protect your lungs are important for those with at-risk occupations.

person in hazmat suit


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 unique 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 cancer.

While anyone can come into contact with asbestos naturally, people who work in certain industries, like construction, are much more likely to come into contact with the mineral regularly, meaning they’re more likely 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.

firefighters fighting blaze

For decades, it was pretty common to see asbestos included in a wide array of building and consumer products because it was fire-resistant, strong and didn’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 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 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 dangers of asbestos exposure is that it could lead to mesothelioma. This rare cancer affects approximately 3,000 people every year in the United States. Due to how rare it is, it oftentimes gets overlooked during diagnosis. Mesothelioma currently has no known cure.

person in hazmat suit


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 real problem.

Find out what year your home was built before doing any extreme renovations. Any homes built before the 1980s carry the possibility of harboring 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 unknowing exposure.


When should I 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, and fever and/or 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.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these signs or has one of these occupations they should look to make an appointment with a pulmonologist.


Need more info on keeping workers safe?

Learn how a risk assessment can save your employees’ lives.

Frank MacDonald
About Frank MacDonald