In the wake of National Asbestos Awareness Week, we want to bring attention to an issue that disproportionately impacts the blue collar community because unfortunately, the harsh reality is that all tradies (not just builders) are more at risk of coming into contact with asbestos than any other profession.
These statistics are terrifying to anyone who has ever worried about whether they have come into contact with asbestos. Firstly because of the dire physical risks that the substance poses, but also because the mental burden of not knowing whether they’ve come in contact with asbestos or similar substances throughout their career is an issue that weighs heavily on tradies across Australia.
We speak a lot about how issues like workplace bullying and relationships can impact mental health. However, we don’t often speak about the effect that undertaking physical risks at work can have on our mental health.
Just googling the phrase “asbestos anxiety” takes you to thousands of anecdotes from blue collar workers across the globe who fear that they have been exposed to the deadly substance at one point or another.
This widespread anxiety stems from cultural factors such as lack of education in the workplace about what asbestos is as well as a culture of toxic masculinity that prevents those who are worried about their health from speaking up to a boss or seeking help from a medical professional.
In fact if you asked tradies around Australia whether they had come in contact with asbestos throughout their career, statistics show that 45% of them wouldn’t be able to identify it despite it being present in one third of Australia homes.
And, while older tradies might be well versed in how to spot asbestos and how dangerous it can be, it is worth noting that it was only banned completely in 2003 which means that there are people on job sites currently who were barely born when these changes were made. This is particularly poignant when you consider that most people who are diagnosed with asbestos related diseases are first exposed in their twenties as young tradies, who are most likely looking for a way to prove their worth and also not wanting to rock the boat or interrupt their boss with questions.
“You think you are invincible and if you just do the job as quickly as possible and get out, that it can’t hurt you. But, that “quick” situation doesn’t just happen once, it happens ten or fifteen times and it is only when you get older that you start to worry about what you might have been exposed to and how it might impact you. I would just encourage anyone on a worksite to be really conscious that it is still a threat and to speak to someone if you are feeling unsure or anxious.” says TradeMutt co-founder Dan Allen.
To check your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, complete Lung Foundation Australia’s anonymous Healthy Lungs at Work Quiz here: https://healthylungsatwork.lungfoundation.com.au/en/
To learn how to protect your lung health at work, check out Lung Foundation Australia’s Healthy Lungs at Work Factsheet: https://lungfoundation.com.au/resources/healthy-lungs-at-work/