OCCUPATIONAL ASBESTOS EXPOSURE
About 70 to 80 percent of all diagnosed cases of mesothelioma are occupational in nature. Workers who were unknowingly exposed to asbestos in the workplace have options to pay for treatment.
During the first three quarters of the 20th century, asbestos was used widely in a variety of construction materials. It was valued by both military and private industry because it provided excellent insulation and was exceptionally fire-retardant.
Workers in the construction and manufacturing industries who handled asbestos-containing materials in the past are at a high risk for developing mesothelioma.
Asbestos fibers are microscopic and friable, meaning that they easily break apart and become airborne. The tiny, airborne fibers are easily inhaled and can be lodged in the lining of the lung, abdomen or heart. Over time, the fibers that are not expelled by the body can cause mesothelioma. Read more about the causes of mesothelioma in our free guide.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Before the 1980s, the use of asbestos was widespread. People working in industries like construction, manufacturing and mining came into contact with asbestos-containing products on a daily basis.
Although the widespread use of the dangerous mineral has declined considerably since then, workers may still come into contact with asbestos in older buildings built before the 1980s.
Specific occupations that carrying the risk of asbestos exposure include:
- Manufacturing and installation of roofing, flooring, pipes
- Manufacturing and maintenance of friction products, like clutch and brake linings
- Construction workers
- Shipyard workers
Veterans who served in all branches of the military from the 1930s to the 1970s were also put at risk for asbestos exposure. At the beginning of WWII, the military constructed its expanding fleet and most of its bases with asbestos-containing materials. The VA recognizes that asbestos causes mesothelioma and offers veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma disability compensation.
The widespread use of asbestos declined dramatically in the 1980s due to a number of bans and regulations. Asbestos, however, is still imported into the United States. The dangerous mineral is still used to produce many products, including:
- Brake and clutch pad lining
- Heat and friction resistant materials
- Industrial pipe wrapping (also known as fitting)
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Ceiling tiles
- Plaster, caulk, cement, adhesive putty
- Roof coating
- Thermal system insulation
- Automatic transmission parts
- Shingles (siding and roofing)
- Cement pipes
Homes built before 1977 may contain asbestos in the insulation or in the patching compounds in walls and ceilings. It is important to understand that asbestos containing materials should be left alone when found. If any asbestos material is found, the best course of action is to limit access to the area and contact a professional trained in handling and removing asbestos materials.
Asbestos Workplace Regulation
Federal regulations enacted by the EPA and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have reduced the danger of occupational asbestos exposure considerably.
Unfortunately, however, a large amount of asbestos is still imported into the U.S. According to the US Geological Survey, about 1,060 tons of asbestos from Brazil in 2012 and projected to consume 1,000 tons until 2016. Currently, the two largest consumers of asbestos in the U.S. are the roofing industry and the chloralkali industry.
Because asbestos is still imported into the U.S., some trades, such as construction and manufacturing, may still handle asbestos-containing materials. It’s important to know that workers have rights and protections from asbestos exposure guaranteed by OSHA safety standards. OSHA works to prevent the hazard of occupational exposure with three workplace-specific standards:
- General Industry: This set of standards applies to work in general industry, like automobile repair, maintenance work and the manufacture of asbestos-containing products.
- Shipyards: This set of standards applies to the construction, repair, demolition and maintenance of ships
- Construction: This set of standards applies to the construction, repair, maintenance and demolition of buildings that contain asbestos. The most important OSHA standard is the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for asbestos. OSHA created the PEL for asbestos to protect workers working in these industries from deadly levels of asbestos.
OSHA Standards for Construction and Shipyard Workers
Construction and shipyard workers face the highest risk of asbestos exposure. OSHA created asbestos exposure standards for these occupations to help workers avoid asbestos exposure.
Class 1: This is the most hazardous class of asbestos-related jobs. Class 1 includes any occupation involving thermal system insulation removal or surfacing using asbestos-containing materials.
Class 2: Any occupation including the removal and installation of flooring and roofing materials that contain.
Class 3: Repair and maintenance operations where workers might potentially disturb asbestos-containing materials.
Class 4: Custodial activities where employees clean up asbestos-containing waste and debris.
OSHA has also created safety guidelines for each class. Employers are required to create areas designated as asbestos exposure sites. These designated work sites help protect employees from being exposed to asbestos unknowingly.
If you work in one of these high-risk professions, talk to your employer about OSHA classifications and standards to make sure you’re working safely.
Next Steps After Asbestos Exposure
Workers diagnosed with occupational mesothelioma have several options to pay for treatment. Asbestos trust funds for victims of occupational asbestos exposure number at about 35 billion dollars. There are also organizations and support groups that offer financial aid to pay for travel to top treatment centers and housing. Veterans diagnosed with service-related mesothelioma qualify for VA benefits and disability compensation.