Power plants are built to generate heat and disburse energy, creating a need for insulation. Before becoming highly regulated, this insulation included asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, which were proven to be cost effective and very durable.

Power plant workers, unfortunately, run the risk of being exposed to toxic asbestos products every day, which can lead to a variety of serious health issues. The potential problems could include asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma cancer, along with other less serious diseases.

Complications often begin with an unknowing inhalation or ingestion of the microscopic asbestos fibers, which can become lodged in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs or the abdomen. Over the span of several years, the fibers can cause inflammation and scarring, potentially leading to cancer.

Although exposure at some level seems unavoidable, there are several ways to cut down the risk of complications due to working around asbestos.

Do Your Research

Knowledge is power. Educate yourself on the dangers of asbestos and where to find it. In older power plants especially, asbestos can be found in most heat-resistant items including pipe insulation and fireproofing sprays. It is in boilers, firebrick, gaskets, blocks, blankets, plaster and panels, among other places.

Upgrading a plant’s machinery requires workers to saw or cut through existing asbestos products before installing any safety items or more asbestos materials. Be familiar with the products you’re working with and take an asbestos safety class to learn more. Invest some time determining where you may find potential hazards and you will be better able to protect yourself properly.

Wear a Respirator

When working with any asbestos products, it’s always important to wear a respirator. Remember asbestos fibers can remain in the air for hours after being disturbed. The older they get, the more dangerous they are.

Many times, a worker doesn’t even know the microscopic fibers are airborne. A regular paper mask like the surgeons wear is not enough. It is important to use a respirator that provides an adequate level of protection for the work you will be doing and what you may be exposed to.

Find a respirator that fits properly, is suited to your work conditions, and is comfortable because if it’s not, you’ll be more apt to remove it when conditions are not safe. Make sure you use it properly, too (to learn more read 6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Respiratory Protection Device).

Don’t Bring Asbestos Home

This may sound simple, but it can get complicated. The last thing you want to do is to bring home any asbestos fibers on your clothing, hair or shoes and expose another family member. Remember, no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe (check out Protect Your Family: Reduce Contamination at Home).

Leave work equipment and gear at work. If you’ve been working with asbestos products, shower at work, if possible. Also, have your work clothing or uniform washed by a licensed service that handles toxic materials. If in doubt, always refrain from bringing anything home that you think may have been exposed.

Avoid Disturbing Asbestos Dust

Anytime you work with asbestos products there is a likelihood of releasing fibers into the air. If there is no electricity involved, wet down the area. This works well when asbestos materials are cut, hammered or otherwise disturbed.

Make sure cleanup is done properly and promptly. Don’t wait. Proper disposal is important. No dry sweeping. A vacuum designed for asbestos should be used in all areas where asbestos dust or fibers were disturbed.

Tell Your Doctor Where You Work

Regular screenings and preventative checkups are a good thing. Asbestos diseases can take decades to develop, but finding them early is when they are treatable. Too often, these diseases are not diagnosed until the later stages when treatment options are limited. Letting your doctor know about your work conditions will help ensure you are getting the proper screenings and tests and give them a clear idea of what to look out for.