01. Asbestos Risk for Industrial Workers
How Are Industrial Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos played a prominent role in many factories and plants for much of the 20th century. The mineral had desirable qualities, such as heat and chemical resistance.
It was commonly used in industrial products. These materials often have to endure high temperatures and/or corrosive chemicals.
As a result, asbestos was found in thousands of products handled regularly by industrial workers. Due to this widespread use, many trades within the industry continue to be at risk of exposure.
Facts About Industrial Workers
- 8,519,410 industrial workers in the United States (2020)
- Asbestos Exposure: Previous and ongoing exposure risk
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
- Similar Occupations: Metalworkers, refinery workers, machinists, chemical workers, power workers
Industrial workers may have been exposed to asbestos from many of their duties. Actions that may have exposed workers to asbestos include:
- Forging metals
- Extracting metals from ores
- Casting liquid materials
- Sandblasting and other surface polishing
- Oil refining
- Smelting metals
- Welding and soldering
- Cutting, stamping or molding metals
What Asbestos Products Put Industrial Workers at Risk?
Products that may have exposed industrial workers to asbestos include:
- Asbestos cement
- Asbestos textiles
- Asbestos ceiling and floor tiles
- Caulking compounds
- Construction products
- Fire-resistant materials (e.g., fire blankets)
- Joint cement
- Personal protective equipment (e.g., asbestos gloves)
- Pipe coverings
- Pipe insulation
- Pipe wrappings
- Refractory products
- Roofing materials
- Vinyl sheet backings
These products were used in industrial machinery throughout numerous jobsites. Many industrial buildings also contained asbestos. As a result, industrial workers are at risk of exposure from machinery and building materials.
These products were manufactured by many asbestos companies. The following companies either:
- Manufactured asbestos materials and products and/or
- Used asbestos materials and products in their facilities
Manufacturers Who Exposed Industrial Workers to Asbestos
Asbestos companies may have exposed thousands of industrial workers to the material. As a result, industrial workers may develop asbestos illnesses, such as mesothelioma.
Common Places Asbestos Is Found in Industrial Settings
Many American manufacturers, power plants and factories used asbestos in their products. The mineral was also used throughout the buildings themselves. As a result, workers were often at high risk of asbestos exposure.
Locations in the workplace that often exposed industrial workers include:
- Boiler rooms
- Construction sites
- Demolition sites
- Manufacturing floors
Any area with asbestos materials can be an asbestos exposure location. When asbestos is disturbed, fibers can become airborne. Workers may then be at risk of inhaling or ingesting the mineral. Poorly ventilated or enclosed areas are especially dangerous because fibers may concentrate in the air, increasing the likelihood of inhalation.
However, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even low levels of exposure can lead to asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis.
Industrial Workers and At-Risk Trades
Many trades fall under the industrial worker umbrella. As a result, the number of industrial workers with asbestos exposure is difficult to estimate. For example, individuals who worked in the power plant industry may also be considered industrial workers.
At-risk industrial trades include:
- Industrial machinery erectors
- Furnace operators
- Machine operators
- Maintenance and repair workers
These professionals may have been exposed during their daily work. They could also have come into contact with the mineral around asbestos-contaminated jobsites.
For example, maintenance mechanics were responsible for repairing machinery and replacing worn-out parts. As a result, they may come into contact with asbestos pumps, valves or gaskets.
To replace these components, workers would often cut or grind the pieces for removal or to ensure the tight fit of new parts. These employees also cut, drilled and scraped asbestos materials during routine maintenance.
Occupation Spotlight: Molders and Asbestos Exposure
Industrial workers known as molders were at risk of asbestos exposure. Molders were often exposed to asbestos during cold molding. This process allows manufacturers to produce thousands of pieces quickly with little scrap.
Products that were to be cold molded were often mixed in large hoppers, then poured into the molds. The hoppers were often open, allowing dust created during the mixing process to become airborne.
As a result, workers in the immediate area were likely subjected to airborne asbestos dust and other harmful substances. Asbestos was also included in the plastic molding processes for reinforcement.
Industrial workers also risked exposing other people in their lives to asbestos. Workers could carry fibers home on their clothing, person and belongings. This potentially brought family members and loved ones in contact with the mineral.
This is known as secondary asbestos exposure. Individuals who experience secondary exposure are also at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
02. Mesothelioma Risk for Industrial Workers
Mesothelioma Risk for Industrial Workers
Employees in industrial settings often repeatedly came into contact with asbestos products. As a result, industrial workers were susceptible to developing asbestos-related diseases.
Industrial occupations and asbestos diseases have been the subject of much research. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 1999 showed industrial and chemical workers had the highest mesothelioma mortality ratio of all occupations. Further data from the same year examined disease incidence among men in different occupational groups. Workers in industrial occupations were found to have an increased risk of peritoneal mesothelioma.
Researchers Find Pleural Abnormalities in Industrial Workers
In 1993, researchers found 45% of millwrights and industrial machinery erectors studied had pleural abnormalities consistent with asbestos exposure.
In the 1980s, government agencies began to prohibit certain asbestos practices. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enacted asbestos rules and regulations to protect workers.
However, the long latency of asbestos diseases means exposed workers may develop illnesses for years to come. Recent data from 2020 confirms industrial workers across sectors showed increased mortality from pleural issues. This includes peritoneal mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
These studies prove the dangerous connection between industrial workers and asbestos health risks.
03. Compensation for Industrial Workers
Compensation for Victims of Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Industrial workers seeking compensation from asbestos companies may choose to file a lawsuit or an asbestos trust fund claim.
Large industrial manufacturers may experience thousands of asbestos claims each year. As a result, many of them have set up trust funds to handle and pay successful claimants. Industrial companies with trust funds include A.P. Green Industries, Halliburton Company and Owens-Corning Fiberglas.
Examples of Industrial Worker Lawsuits
In 2012, former welder Charles McKinney brought a lawsuit against Hobart Brothers Company. This company manufactured asbestos-containing welding rods.
McKinney’s case alleged he developed mesothelioma after inhaling asbestos fibers while working near the welding rods. The court awarded a $4.6 million judgment in his favor.
These cases are a few instances where industrial workers were able to hold asbestos companies accountable. An experienced mesothelioma law firm can help other industrial workers decide which legal option best suits their situation.