In late October 2009, British government officials announced that asbestos was the top workplace killer in Great Britain and that about a quarter of the 4,000 people dying from asbestos-related illnesses every year were tradesmen such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters who come in contact while working in homes and other buildings with the heat-resistant mineral used for years in insulation.
In fact, from 1977 to 2007, more than 35,000 U.K. workers died from asbestos-related mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer primarily affecting the lining of the lungs. Similarly, those who spend their work lives mining coal, copper and radioactive uranium are exposed to toxic dust and gases that can leave them with a variety of lung diseases and cancer.
Even flight attendants, who spend years speeding across continents seven miles into the stratosphere, are exposed to more cosmic and solar radiation that those of us who are earthbound. According to a NASA report, flight crews on routes at high latitudes, where the atmosphere is thinner and provides less filtering of radiation than closer to the equator, are exposed to more radiation annually than nuclear plant workers.
A 2009 meta-analysis of previous studies, which appeared in the Journal of Travel Medicine, confirmed "significantly increased" rates of breast cancer and melanoma among female flight attendants, but authors said the findings were controversial because there was only limited evaluation of non-work-related factors, such as sun exposure.
For some jobs, the exposure to potentially dangerous situations or environments is simply a fact of life. The important thing is to adhere to all recommended health and safety practices for your profession -- whether that means donning a dust mask or other protective gear if you are in a construction or carpentry role, to practicing proper safety measures if you work with or around dangerous substances. If you feel that your work is putting your health at unnecessary risk, you can learn more about your options at the website of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).