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What are the symptoms of overexposure to asbestos?

by , 17 January 2014
If your company uses asbestos, you must protect your employees properly. How do you go about doing this? Well, the first step is being aware of the symptoms of overexposure to asbestos...

The Health & Safety Advisor defines asbestos as 'a group of highly fibrous minerals characterised by separable, long and thin fibres.'

The Asbestos Regulation recognises six asbestos minerals:

  1. Amosite;
  2. Chrysotile;
  3. Crocidolite;
  4. Fibrous actinolite;
  5. Fibrous anthophyllite; and
  6. Fibrous tremolite.

If your company uses any of these asbestos minerals, you must ensure your employees aren't overexposed to them.

So what are the signs of over exposure to asbestos?

Here are the symptoms of overexposure to asbestos?

The short-term effects of inhaling asbestos fibres suspended in air, i.e. asbestos dust include:

  • Shortness of breath;
  • Abdominal pain;
  • Chest pain; and
  • Irritation of skin and mucous membranes.

The long-term effects to watch out for are:

  • Reduced pulmonary function;
  • Breathing difficulty;
  • Dry cough;
  • Broadening and thickening of the ends of the fingers;
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes; and
  • Development of lung diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Please note that the risk of developing any of these diseases depends on many factors, including the type of fibre, the level and duration of exposure, and the smoking history of the exposed employee.

Is there anything you can do to protect employees working with asbestos?


'Implement an Occupational Hygiene Survey to determine if employees are exposed to an airborne asbestos concentration exceeding the occupational exposure limit (OEL),' says the Health & Safety Advisor.

The established exposure limit for workplaces in South Africa is 0.2 regulated asbestos fibre/mL averaged over any continuous period of four hours.

If the airborne concentration of asbestos exceeds the occupational exposure limit, you must provide:

  • Appropriate personal protective equipment, for example, respirators and clothing.
  • Pre-placement medical evaluations to detect and assess pre-existing lung conditions.
  • Periodic medical screening.

Knowing the signs the symptoms of over exposure to asbestos will help ensure you take steps to protect employees working with asbestos.

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