The use of asbestos was banned in construction in 1999. However, the substance has not been removed from properties built before the ban was implemented. If undisturbed, the substance does not pose a risk to those who live or work around it. However, if it is disturbed, dangerous particles can linger in the air for up to 72 hours.
People exposed to disturbed asbestos for a prolonged period risk developing illnesses such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. Anyone who works around the substance must be aware of asbestosis and the symptoms. Furthermore, it is essential that employers provide quality awareness training for any workers operating in areas that may house asbestos.
What is asbestosis?
Asbestosis is a long-term condition that affects the lungs. To be at risk of this disease, you would need to be exposed to disturbed asbestos over a prolonged period.
Those who operated within the construction industry between 1970 and 1999 are most at risk. Other people at risk include individuals who may disturb the substance while working, including:
- Demolition workers
- Those who refurbish properties
- Construction workers
What are the causes of asbestosis?
When materials that house asbestos are damaged, fine dust is released containing asbestos fibres. If you are interested in what asbestos looks like in various building materials, you can take a look here.
When the dust containing asbestos fibres is breathed in, it can scar the lungs, particularly if it is breathed in over a prolonged period; resulting in asbestosis.
What are the symptoms of asbestosis?
The main symptoms of asbestosis to be aware of include:
- Persistent coughing
- Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- Chest or shoulder pain
- Clubbed (swollen fingers) in more advanced cases
There are rare occasions when additional symptoms develop, these include:
- Swelling in the face or neck
- Problems swallowing
- Blood in the sputum
- Weight loss or loss in appetite
It can take anything from ten to fifty years for symptoms to show themselves. You should seek advice from your GP if:
- You worked in construction before the ban
- Are worried you have been exposed to disturbed asbestos
- Are showing any of the above symptoms
If you have been exposed and are showing symptoms related to asbestosis, your GP will need to know more about your working life. If they believe you may have developed asbestosis, they will refer you to a lung specialist for additional tests. These will include:
- A CT scan – targeting the lungs
- An X-ray – targeting the chest
- Further tests analysing lung function
Unfortunately, lung scarring caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos cannot be reversed; however, there are treatments available to help; such as:
- Oxygen therapy – to improve oxygen levels in your blood and relieve breathlessness
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – this involves exercise sessions and advice on how to manage your symptoms
There is also an increased risk that individuals with an asbestosis diagnosis will develop additional conditions, including:
- Pleural disease
- Lung cancer
Asbestos Awareness Online Course
Whether you are self-employed or employ staff that operate around asbestos, you must provide quality training regularly. We offer asbestos awareness courses that can be completed online. The HSE recommends that you undertake refresher training at least once a year. This way, you or your team can work safely at all times.