You learned that you may have been subject to long-term asbestos exposure in the workplace. This startling development becomes a growing concern because of the potential health complications, including mesothelioma.
Racing through your head are many worries associated with inhaling the asbestos dust, particles and fibers. Along with your health, your family comes immediately to mind. But what should you do once you suspect exposure to asbestos?
Contact doctor and monitor your health
The health consequences from regular exposure to asbestos do not surface for 15-20 years at a minimum. This is referred to as the latency period inherent with asbestos exposure and diseases.
If you suspect you have been exposed to asbestos, here are some steps to take:
- Do your best to avoid additional exposure to asbestos: Knowing you work in an environment with potential asbestos exposure, please wear personal protective equipment such as disposable coveralls and boots, safety mask, eyewear and a respirator.
- Inform your employer and appropriate governmental agencies: If you are still working, your employer already may know about the presence of asbestos and might have addressed the issue. Find out whether the company has implemented steps to cleanup the workplace, abate or remove the known asbestos, and prevent future exposures. Employers must protect their workers. Consider also contacting the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Promptly visit your doctor: A physician may help you create a health chronology pinpointing the possible workplaces where you suffered asbestos exposure. Explain how you were exposed and duration of the exposure. A doctor also will discuss secondhand exposure scenarios with you, determine your level of risk and steer you toward a medical specialist (typically a pulmonologist or lung specialist) if necessary.
- Document the asbestos products to which you were exposed. This could prove useful in the future if you ever are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease and want to hold responsible the companies that manufactured or supplied the dangerous products without warnings to you, your coworkers, or your family members. If you cannot identify the specific manufacturers or suppliers (such as Johns-Manville or Owens-Corning), at least try to identify the generic type of product (such as pipe covering, block insulation, wallboard, joint compound) or equipment (such as insulated pumps or valves).
- Consider legal options: Contact an attorney who will provide guidance as to whether you qualify for compensation.
- Keep monitoring your health: Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pains and coughing may be the sign of mesothelioma or other diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should help you get started.
An asbestos-related illness may not surface for many years or even decades after regular exposure to the known carcinogen. Even so, do not ignore the possibility you have been breathing in asbestos fibers at your workplace. Be as proactive as you can and try to protect yourself and your family even if your employer and asbestos manufacturers or suppliers did not.