Safety hazards exist in every industry, and the only way you can protect yourself from harm is to be fully aware of the risks of your job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that each employer must inform employees about the safety hazards they will face and the safety precautions to avoid injuries or illness. However, some workplaces pose dangers that could only become evident years after exposure.
If you are a member of the construction or industrial workforce in Pennsylvania, you may risk exposure to asbestos without realizing it. Asbestos is a life-threatening hazard that could cause mesothelioma, which is a deadly type of cancer. Asbestos was a frequently used mineral for many applications, but after identifying it as a carcinogen, the use of asbestos became limited in the 1980s.
Where is it found and who is at risk?
The heat-resistant abilities of asbestos made it a widely used product in various industries. It may still be present in older construction materials such as water pipes and steam lines, floor tiles, and other building materials. Asbestos is also present in vehicle parts like clutches and brakes. If you work in one of the following occupations you might be at risk:
- Construction worker
- A worker in an asbestos-containing product manufacturing plant
- Member of a demolition crew
- Automobile technician
- Shipyard worker
Even if you worked in one of these industries a long time ago, mesothelioma could take up to 50 years to reveal its symptoms.
How does asbestos affect your health?
A carcinogen is an agent or substance that could cause cancer, and the manner in which asbestos affects the lungs is what classifies it as carcinogenic. Whenever you work with any asbestos-containing material, the minute fibers -- invisible to the human eye -- become airborne, and if you do not wear protection, you will inhale the fibers. The sharp-edged particles then lodge into your lung tissue.
The reaction of your lungs will be to form scar tissue around the asbestos fibers, and over years of exposure your lungs can develop enough scar tissue to limit its functioning, and it could lead to disability and, ultimately, death. However, the development of scar tissue occurs gradually, and if you do not have frequent health checks, you might not realize the harm for many years.
What precautions can you take?
You will have a better chance of avoiding exposure to asbestos if you learn to identify its presence at job sites. When left undisturbed, asbestos poses little risk. However, as soon as you disturb the fibers, they become airborne and breathable. Asbestos-containing materials that are broken up, ground, smashed or cut create dangerous dust, and you should even avoid sweeping settled dust in these areas because it may become airborne. Suitably qualified professionals must seal or abate flaky or broken asbestos-containing materials.
Are you a mesothelioma victim?
There are specific procedures to follow to obtain benefits that will provide financial assistance. This might apply even if you left the employ of the company at which exposure took place years ago. A Pennsylvania workers' compensation attorney who has experience in dealing with mesothelioma claims will likely best navigate this complicated process.