01. Asbestos Risk for Construction Workers
How Are Construction Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos was added to a variety of products across the construction industry. The mineral was popular because of its strength and durability. Asbestos was also useful for fireproofing building materials and structures. Until the 1980s, asbestos products were used in the construction of many buildings and homes.
Facts About Construction Workers
- 7,392,000 construction workers in the United States (2021)
- Asbestos Exposure: Previous and high ongoing exposure risk
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
- Similar Occupations: Carpenters, electricians, roofers
If asbestos materials break apart, asbestos fibers may be released into the air. Airborne asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled or ingested. If fibers embed in the organs, workers may develop asbestosis, lung cancer or malignant mesothelioma.
What Asbestos Products Put Construction Workers at Risk?
From the 1930s to the 1980s, a variety of asbestos products were used by the construction industry. Exposure to common asbestos construction materials is linked to mesothelioma cancer and related health risks.
Construction workers may have been exposed to asbestos from:
- Ceiling tiles
- Joint packing
- Roofing materials
- Vinyl floor tiles
Many companies manufactured asbestos products that put workers at risk. These companies often supplied asbestos building materials to the military, government and other organizations.
Common Places Asbestos Is Found in the Construction Industry
Construction workers across the country work on many types of structures and buildings.
In the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported 733,000 asbestos-containing commercial and public buildings in the U.S. The EPA’s figure included 35,000 schools and 317,000 buildings that contained disturbed asbestos materials.
During the construction or demolition of these buildings, workers may have experienced exposure. Locations that often exposed construction workers include:
Within these buildings, asbestos materials were used in many rooms and structures. Drywall, roofing, floor tiles and paint were all once made with asbestos.
Asbestos has been removed from many buildings since the 1980s. However, there are thousands of structures in the U.S. that may still contain asbestos. As a result, construction workers remain at high risk of exposure.
Construction Workers and At-Risk Trades
Many different professionals in the construction industry faced asbestos exposure. At-risk trades in the construction industry include:
- Drywall tapers
- Electric power lineman
- Machine operators
- Tile insulators
Cutting, sanding and repairing drywall panels may put workers at risk of asbestos exposure. When asbestos-drywall is dismantled, fibers may be released into the air.
Demolition of old cement and brick structures may put masons and bricklayers at risk of exposure. Asbestos was once commonly added to cement blocks and adhesives.
Repairing or remodeling a roof may cause asbestos fibers to become airborne. Asbestos shingles were often used for fireproofing and may still exist on some old homes.
When applying asbestos paint or spackling, painters may have experienced exposure. Today, wear and tear of old asbestos paint results in risk to workers and residents.
Family members and loved ones of construction workers also risk secondary asbestos exposure. At the height of asbestos use, workers often brought home asbestos fibers on their clothing. Family members who laundered clothing were often exposed and later developed asbestos illnesses.
02. Mesothelioma Risk
Mesothelioma Risk for Construction Workers
Construction workers who experienced past asbestos exposure may develop mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease.
In a 2009 Italian study, researchers showed a significant number of mesothelioma cases could be linked to construction work. Of 952 individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma, 251 had worked in the construction industry.
A study in North Carolina also found high rates of peritoneal cancers among construction workers. Researchers also documented elevated rates of lung cancer in:
- Brick masons
- Operating engineers
Drywall workers and laborers were also found to have risk of death from respiratory tuberculosis. Researchers attribute these diseases to years of work in the construction industry.
Due to the long latency period, it can take decades for previously exposed workers to develop mesothelioma or another illness. Construction workers with a history of asbestos exposure should maintain regular cancer screenings.
03. Compensation for Workers
Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Construction workers with an asbestos-related disease may seek financial compensation. Workers and their loved ones can file an asbestos lawsuit against negligent companies and organizations. Some individuals may also be eligible for workers’ compensation.
Financial compensation can help mesothelioma patients and loved ones pay for treatment costs and other expenses.
Family of Late Construction Worker Awarded $2 Million
Glen Arthur Strickland worked in the construction industry for 45 years. In 2007, he was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma and later passed away. Strickland’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Union Carbide. During his career, Strickland used several asbestos-containing products supplied by Union Carbide. The jury awarded Strickland’s family:
- $865,120 in economic damages
- $1.3 million in noneconomic damages
Construction workers and their loved ones can contact a mesothelioma lawyer. An attorney may help victims determine their best options for compensation.
04. Asbestos Safety
Asbestos Safety for Construction Workers
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and EPA put regulations in place to help protect construction workers from asbestos exposure on the job.
The permissible exposure limit (PEL) and excursion limit (EL) require employers to limit asbestos exposure. Precautions that aim to protect workers from asbestos hazards include:
- Engineering controls and work practices to limit exposure, such as protective equipment
- Proper hazard communication and demarcation
- Designated decontamination and lunch areas
- Medical surveillance for those exposed to levels at or above the PEL
- Proper record-keeping of potential exposures and employee medical surveillance
Asbestos is not fully banned in the United States. Therefore, employers and employees in the construction industry need to recognize the hazards of asbestos exposure and take proper safety precautions.