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Machine operators hold an occupation that is at high risk for asbestos exposure. Machinery and products that they work with has been known to contain asbestos for durability and fireproofing. Many machine operators are being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases from previous and continued exposure.

01. Overview

How Are Machine Operators at Risk of Exposure

Occupational asbestos exposure is an ongoing concern, especially for those in certain industries like construction workers, shipyard workers, U.S. Navy veterans and machine operators. Asbestos was a common material used in machinery, equipment, products and materials that machine operators came into contact with on a daily basis during the 1900s, and may still work with today.

Since asbestos fibers can withstand high temperatures and act as fireproofing, machine operators used many asbestos products, including brake pads, brake linings, gaskets and other equipment components that faced friction and high temperatures. Machine operators are at risk when parts face heavy wear or when equipment needs repairs, potentially releasing asbestos particles into the air. The machine operation industry is composed of several trades, all with a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure.

At-Risk Trades
  • Bulldozer operators
  • Crane operators
  • Drill press operators
  • Factory workers
  • Freight and material handlers
  • Grinding machine operators
  • Ironworkers
  • Millwrights
  • Mixing operators
  • Operating engineers
  • Power plant workers
  • Road machine operators
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Tool and die makers

Aside from the machinery that workers operate on a daily basis, many other situations put workers in this industry at risk of exposure, such as driving over corroding roadways that used asbestos as a strengthening agent, working on construction or demolition projects that disturb asbestos fibers in building materials, or even during the creation of asbestos products, common for millwrights and drill press operators. Exposure in indoor workspaces like this has often caused more concern, as breathing environments are more constricted with a higher concentration of airborne asbestos fibers.

Even a small amount of exposure could put workers at risk of health problems like mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. However, long-term exposure presents an even larger health risk, making workers more likely to develop an asbestos disease. As a result of the high rates of exposure, asbestos companies and employers continue to face asbestos lawsuits from victims and their loved ones as they seek compensation for pain, suffering, lost wages and medical costs. Notable manufacturers that face legal action in relation to machine operation include Honeywell, Johns Manville, Norton Co. and Turner & Newall.

In recent years, machine operation trades have employed millions of Americans. Construction equipment operators alone consist of close to 500,000 Americans, while material moving machine operators account for around 680,000 employees. Since around 80% of all diagnosed cases of mesothelioma can be attributed to asbestos exposure, hundreds of thousands of machine operators are at risk of developing the rare cancer.

02. Preventing Exposure

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Heavy equipment operators face many safety and health risks, including asbestos exposure, which heightens the risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases. For those who may still be facing exposure, there are regulations and procedures already put into place to offer protection for machine operators, including:

  • For those working on a separate jobsite, such as a demolition or construction site, asbestos should be removed by certified contractors prior to the start of the job to create a safe working environment.
  • Protective clothing and equipment are often used during machine operation or repairs to create a clean breathing environment.
  • Operators should be aware of high-risk job sites, such as schools, residential buildings, military sites and other dated infrastructures.
  • Potentially contaminated clothing and equipment should be sealed off and properly disposed of to also prevent bringing asbestos dust home, putting family members at risk of secondhand exposure.

For those who know they have been exposed to asbestos, it’s crucial to look out for mesothelioma symptoms and seek professional medical advice right away, as early detection can improve treatment and prognosis.

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