It is important to know what to do if exposed to asbestos, particularly if you work in an environment that poses an asbestos risk. This is because asbestos is a dangerous substance that spreads easily if not managed properly.
If you are exposed to asbestos, it is important that you take steps to not only protect yourself, but avoid risking the health of others as well. Take the right actions and consult the right people in order to ensure the best possible outcome.
What should I do if I suspect I’ve been exposed to asbestos?
Ultimately, the best thing to do if you suspect you’ve been exposed to asbestos is to not panic. When you panic, you risk causing further asbestos contamination and infecting others. You also undermine the asbestos management procedures of your workplace, affecting the safety and compliance of your workplace.
If you suspect you have been exposed to asbestos, here are the steps you should take:
1. Assume you’ve been exposed to asbestos
Similarly to how you should treat surfaces that may contain asbestos containing materials (ACMs) as though they do contain ACMs; you should assume you have been exposed to asbestos if you are put in a situation where you could potentially be exposed to asbestos.
This is especially true because any asbestos exposure, no matter how seemingly minimal, is potentially dangerous. Assuming you have been exposed allows for the right steps to be taken in order to minimise any further exposure threats.
2. Seek medical help immediately
Even if your symptoms are slight or barely noticeable, it is important that you seek out an asbestos related disease specialist so you can be examined for any potential asbestos related diseases.
Once exposed to asbestos, there’s no cure. However, by taking care of your health and being on the lookout for the symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses, you can ensure that you can get diagnosed more quickly in the event that you fall ill. Early treatment for asbestos diseases gives you the best chance of recovery.
3. Update the National Asbestos Exposure Register (NAER)
The Australian Government created the National Asbestos Exposure Register (NAER) to record information for members of the community who may have been exposed to asbestos, for their future reference. Updating this register means creating an important reference for others exposed to asbestos going forward.
The NAER is a voluntary, privacy-protected register for anyone who believes they may have been exposed to asbestos – whether at work, in the home or in the community. This data is stored securely and can be accessed by the individual in the future if they need to recall the exposure event.
4. Contact your employer
Asbestos management is incredibly important in the workplace in order to ensure workplace safety and compliance. To that end, you should contact your employer to provide them with any information regarding the location and time of ACM exposure.
Not only does this help your employer coordinate their asbestos management plan in order to create a safe and compliant workplace environment, but it also allows your employer to contact any other employees that may have also been exposed, allowing them to take the correct action for the sake of their own health.
5. Take steps to maintain your health
Once any potential asbestos exposure hazards have been mitigated, there is a misconception that there is no need to concern yourself any longer. This is not true. It is important that you regularly consult with your doctor in order to diagnose any asbestos related diseases before they can cause significant damage.
It is also important to adopt healthy lifestyle choices in order to reduce the likelihood that asbestos related diseases will emerge. These choices include the cessation of smoking, as well as ensuring that all of your vaccinations are up to date.
How can one get exposed to asbestos?
Because of asbestos’ wide use in Australian building construction up until the late 90s, there are many buildings and homes within Australia with asbestos containing materials (ACM) in the walls and ceiling.
When certain areas of the building are disrupted, it can cause a breakage of asbestos containing materials, which then releases asbestos fibres into the air. Asbestos fibres are easy to inhale once they have been released into the surrounding area, making asbestos management incredibly important in the workplace.
What are the signs of asbestos exposure?
The signs of asbestos come in the form of asbestos disease related symptoms. As a result, the majority of asbestos signs are incurred in the lungs, where the asbestos fibres cause direct damage.
However, there are other areas of the body that asbestos affects, so signs can arise as symptoms in the throat, stomach and colon as well. Below, we’ve listed the symptoms that can arise in the aftermath of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos affecting the lungs
Signs of asbestos exposure affecting the lungs include:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough or wheezing
- A persistent crackling sound when breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Respiratory complications
- Accumulation of fluid in the space surrounding a lung (a.k.a. Pleural effusion)
- Accumulation of plaque in the space surrounding a lung (a.k.a. Pleural plaque)
- Pleural thickening
Asbestos affecting other parts of the body
Signs of asbestos exposure affecting other parts of the body include:
- Abdominal swelling and distention
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Bowel obstruction
- Inexplicable weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Clubbed fingers
What diseases are caused by asbestos exposure?
Asbestos exposure can cause different kinds of diseases to develop, such as:
- Lung cancer
- Laryngeal cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Benign pleural effusion
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural thickening
These diseases are devastating, making it all the more important that you take action immediately in the event you are exposed to asbestos in order to lower the likelihood that you will develop one of them.
Asbestos Disease FAQs
What is the risk of developing asbestos related diseases?
Approximately 20% of people who work with asbestos develop a related disease. Some heavily exposed groups have reported even higher rates.
- 6 to 10% develop mesothelioma
- 20% to 25% develop lung cancer
- 50% of heavily exposed groups develop asbestosis
How long do asbestos symptoms take to emerge?
Typically, the symptoms of an asbestos related disease take 40 years to emerge. This is why it’s important to consult your doctor regularly, as the asbestos latency period is why mesothelioma diagnoses are difficult.
Is there a safe level of asbestos exposure?
No. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), no level of asbestos exposure is safe.