Understanding the Causes of the Lung Disease Called Asbestosis

The lung disease known as asbestosis is named after the toxic material asbestos – it was previously extensively used in industries such as construction because of its excellent insulation capabilities against fire. However once it was realised how hazardous asbestos is when breathed in, a full ban was implemented in the UK by the year 2 000.

What poses a serious problem is that exposure to asbestos materials can cause serious lung damage which only becomes apparent as long as 15 to 30 years later. This is why it is crucial for proper Health & Safety precautions to be in place for anyone exposed to asbestos.

The following guide by Health & Safety specialists Lighthouse Risk Services will explore how asbestos causes lung damage, and outlines the professions that are at highest risk of exposure so that you can be sure to take appropriate safety measures.

Asbestosis – The Danger Caused by Asbestos Fibres

Normally, when you inhale something like a particle of dust, the cells in the alveoli (air sacks) of your lungs break it down before it has the opportunity to cause harm when it reaches the actual lung tissues and blood stream.

What makes asbestos so dangerous is that it is composed of tiny crystalline fibres which can easily become airborne, and they are so robust that when breathed in the alveoli cells (macrophages) cannot break them down. In trying to do their job, the lung cells release chemical substances to destroy the fibres, but this causes your lungs themselves to become inflamed and also damages the alveoli of the lungs which are vital to the body’s health.

Alveoli facilitate the transfer of oxygen from your lungs into your blood when you breathe in, and the release harmful carbon dioxide from your blood when you breathe out. If the alveoli are damaged they cannot perform properly, which causes shortness of breath and a persistent cough.

Eventually, with exposure to asbestos fibres, the alveoli become scarred (called fibrosis). This produces the lung condition called asbestosis. Unfortunately however, the symptoms do not appear until many years later once the damage has been done. For this reason asbestosis is called a ‘silent killer’. If caught before it has progressed severely, the medical profession can help to ease a patient’s discomfort, however there is currently no cure of asbestosis.

High Risk Professions for Asbestos Exposure

Workers on buildings constructed in the 1970s when asbestos materials were used prevalently are at particular risk of developing asbestosis from asbestos fibre exposure, so if you fall into this criterion, you are advised to visit your doctor for tests immediately.

The following sectors used asbestos materials frequently before they were banned, and in some cases asbestos may still be present in these types of workplaces:

  • Construction;

  • Chemical Manufacturing;

  • Fabric, Thread & Yarn Mills;

  • Non-metallic Mineral Stone Production;

  • Plastic & Rubber Production;

  • Ship Building & Repair

  • Trucking Services.

If your occupation is in any of these industries, you should also have a GP check-up, and ensure there are correct Health & Safety measures in place to prevent accidental exposure:

  • Air-conditioning Engineers;

  • Boilermakers;

  • Chemical Technicians;

  • Heating Engineers;

  • Insulation Workers;

  • Pipefitters, Plumbers and Steamfitters;

  • Plasterers;

  • Refrigeration Engineers;

  • Shipyard Workers;

  • Sheet Metal Workers.


By outlining the dangers of asbestos exposure, Health & Safety specialists Lighthouse Risk Services hope to encourage anyone working in the above professions to ensure there are adequate safety measures in place and to have annual check-ups at their GP so that to any signs of asbestosis are picked up before the condition gets severe.

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