When running a business the heath and safety of your employees should be paramount. However, there is a silent killer that has been effecting businesses for many years. And continues to do so.
Whether it is from past exposure that is now causing health issues. Or buildings that still have asbestos-containing materials in their infrastructures. Asbestos is still to this causing issues for many businesses. So what makes asbestos so dangerous? And what can you do to ensure your business is not affected?
Asbestos Related Diseases
When asbestos is disturbed, moved or damaged then it releases invisible fibers into the air. These fibers, when breathed in for extended periods, can cause a variety of life-limiting and threatening diseases.
A correlation also between these diseases is that the symptoms don’t always present themselves until at least 20 – 30 years later. Often by then, it is too late and the damage is done and is irreversible.
Here are the more common diseases caused by asbestos:
This type of cancer is an aggressive result of asbestos exposure. It develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of the lung or rarely stomach. The lung tends to be the organ most affected by mesothelioma – this is known as pleural mesothelioma.
It is usually diagnosed in people aged 60 – 80 and is more commonly found in men. This could be because asbestos was a common material used in construction, which was and still is a male-dominated working industry.
Symptoms tend to develop gradually over time. They also differ depending on the area affected.
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Fevers and sweating
- Persistent cough
- Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
- Clubbed (swollen) fingertips
- Tummy pains and swelling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
- Diarrhea and constipation
These symptoms are also the symptoms of other less concerning illnesses, this can delay a diagnosis further due to checking for other illnesses.
Mesothelioma is caused primarily by asbestos. The tiny fibers that get stuck in the lungs cause damage over time. This cancer typically develops more than 20 years after exposure.
The outlook for people who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma is generally very poor. With the cancer being diagnosed at an advanced stage, it has usually progressed rapidly. This means treatment often involves controlling the symptoms, prolonging life for as long as possible and making sure patients are comfortable.
Statistically, 50% of people with mesothelioma will live at least one year after diagnosis. Only 10% will live at least 5 years after.
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
While similar to mesothelioma in that it can take years to develop and only a short time to metastasize. Asbestos-related lung cancer also involves a similar diagnostic procedure and the symptoms can also be the same.
However, they do differ in physical characteristics and treatments. Mesothelioma tends to develop in the lining of the lung or stomach and lung cancer develops mainly within the lungs.
Asbestos-related lung cancer tends to grow in individual masses which will have defined boundaries. Mesothelioma will start developing as scattered tiny tumors in the lining of the organ. These tumors will eventually join together to create a mass that surrounds the organ affected like a sheet.
Mesothelioma is caused only by asbestos, whereas lung cancer can have other contributing factors that can lead to it. The highest being smoking, but the environment and genetics also play a role in the development of lung cancer.
This is a serious long term condition that is also caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. This exposure would have to be over several years before the disease will develop.
Most people at risk of asbestosis are those that worked in the construction and building industry between the ’70s and ’90s. Also in present-day, those that are at risk of accidentally disturbing asbestos in old buildings are a high risk too. These tend to be electricians and demolition workers.
Asbestosis is defined as the scarring of the lungs caused by breathing in the fibers produced by asbestos for extended periods. The scarring can cause symptoms similar to the cancers mentioned above.
There is no cure for asbestosis once it has developed as there is no way of reversing the damage. Some treatments can help lessen the symptoms though. These include lung rehabilitation and oxygen therapy to help with breathing.
Asbestosis can greatly increase the chances of getting mesothelioma, lung cancer, and pleural thickening. So it is important for suffers to have regular check-ups and screenings.
This is a lung disease that is caused when extensive scarring thickens the pleura (lining of the lung). Again is a commonly diagnosed sign of repeated asbestos exposure.
Pleural thickening is when the scar tissue in the pleura, commonly caused by asbestosis, to thicken. This lining will eventually become rigid, therefore limiting the capacity of the lung and sufferers will struggle to expand their lungs when breathing.
As the disease progresses patients will commonly exhibit symptoms of constant chest pain and breathlessness. Pleural effusion can also be an indicator and result of pleural thickening. Pleural effusion is when the lining in the lungs fills with fluid, this is another indicator of mesothelioma and would need to be drained regularly to limit symptoms.
This thickening can also be an indicator of mesothelioma, which with earlier detection, can improve treatment options. So sufferers should attend regular screenings and monitor symptoms. Advanced pleural thickening can also cause restrictive lung disease. This means patients will have limited lung volume and have to work harder to breathe.
Treatment for pleural thickening tends to be ones that ease symptoms, these would be medication and steroids. Pleurectomy Surgery is also an option but this is usually reserved for those also diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma as it is aggressive and involves removing parts of the lung.
How can I prevent my business from being affected by Asbestos?
It’s quite simple really. It is your duty as a business owner to ensure the right health and safety measures are in place for all your employees. If you work in a building that was made before 2000 then it is important you get an asbestos survey.
An asbestos survey is when a professional body will come into your building to measure the level and risk of any asbestos-containing material within the building. They would then compile a management plan to help keep the asbestos from becoming damaged or disturbed.
If the asbestos is a high risk then the next course of action would be to have that asbestos removed, safely without risk of contaminating the air or those in the surrounding environment.
Another way to keep your business in check would be to run assessments of staff that has worked with asbestos before. Then arrange for them to have regular health checks to ensure they are fit and able to work.
A good health and safety management plan are crucial in any business. It is important to have asbestos management fall under this too. To protect your employees from the possible dangers of the toxic material.
Asbestos is a toxic material that has no use in today’s society. There are countries that still actively use the material as they do not believe the health risks associated with asbestos. These countries tend to be in the East like India and China.
The western world has now fully acknowledged the dangers of asbestos especially when damaged. With legislation in a place completely banning the use of the material.
However, for some, the ban comes a little too late and the damage is already done. These people do however have the opportunity to get compensation for this neglect to their health from their previous employment.
So as a business owner it is important you do the best to protect your employees from any form or asbestos contact. As there are still around 50% of properties still holding asbestos, this would need to be monitored carefully to prevent damage and the distribution of asbestos fibers.