Nowadays, asbestos is most infamous for the health hazards it poses to the respiratory system and its potential to cause lung cancer and asbestosis. However, those aren’t the only dangers involved in asbestos exposure.

It’s estimated that up to 50% of all UK buildings (both residential and commercial) may contain asbestos, so it’s important to be aware of all the risks involved. In this article, we’ll discuss one of the lesser-known dangers of this material for construction workers and people who handle asbestos: asbestos effects on the skin.

How Does Asbestos Skin Exposure Happen?

There are two ways in which asbestos can make its way into the skin. First, asbestos fibres or dust can come in contact with the skin directly and cause irritation or wart-like growths. In theory, this type of exposure shouldn’t take place given that people who handle asbestos must wear adequate PPE.

However, asbestos fibres can attach themselves to PPE, masks, or other clothing which can result in them being inadvertently inhaled. This could also cause what’s known as secondary exposure if the contaminated clothing is taken to other locations, such as the worker’s home or on public transport. In this case, the fibres present on the worker’s clothes or skin could be inhaled by other people.

What Are The Dangers?

It should be noted that any type of unprotected exposure to asbestos carries a risk of serious illness, regardless of how it happens. Reactions to asbestos exposure on the skin normally manifest quickly, but actual disease can appear years or even decades after exposure.

The dangers associated with asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestos skin reactions, like irritation and inflammation.
  • ‘Corns’ or wart-like growths at the site of exposure, which may turn malignant over time.
  • Lung cancer / mesothelioma.
  • Other types of cancer (throat, kidney, stomach, intestines).
  • Asbestosis.
  • Pleural effusions (fluid build-up around the lungs), which causes serious respiratory symptoms.

Next Steps – Reducing The Risks of Asbestos Exposure

Construction workers are at a high risk of exposure to asbestos when working on renovations, extensions, and demolition projects. In addition, maintenance works are also at risk of exposure to asbestos when carrying out maintenance and improvement works on site. The risk of asbestos exposure through the skin means that workers should be equipped with adequate PPE skin coverings, and not simply respiratory equipment when handling asbestos.

Building, project and safety managers have a legal duty of care towards their employees and the public, so they should ensure that all asbestos handling is carried out according to current regulations. At OMC Consultants we take public health seriously, and as specialists in asbestos management solutions, we can help you stay compliant throughout the different stages of a project. Please get in touch to find out more.

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