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People all over the globe face various health risks at work every day. World Day for Safety and Health at Work, observed on April 28th, was created by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2003 to raise awareness for occupational illnesses and injuries. The ILO estimates that over 2 million people die each year globally from an occupational injury or illness. With better safety and preventive measures, these numbers can surely decline.
One big risk many workers face – many without even realizing it – is asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that was mined and widely used around the world in a variety of applications because of its durability and resistance to heat. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at work each year.
Asbestos can cause a number of serious illnesses, including mesothelioma. Even the smallest amount of exposure is considered unsafe. At their last estimate, the WHO cited 107,000 deaths due to asbestos-related diseases caused by occupational exposure.
World Day for Safety and Health at Work is the perfect opportunity to raise awareness for preventable occupational hazards, like asbestos, and help put an end to these serious illnesses they can cause.
The Need to Prevent Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is a natural mineral that has long been mined for use in construction, vehicle parts, flame retardant clothing, and various consumer goods. It became the go-to material in so many industries because of its so-called miraculous properties, on top of being inexpensive.
But by the 1920s, the health risks of this widely utilized mineral started to be recognized. When asbestos becomes disturbed, it releases microscopic fibers into the air. People working with or around disturbed asbestos risk breathing in these fibers, which over time can cause serious diseases.
Symptoms from asbestos exposure can take anywhere from 10 – 50 years to start to show. Over time, the inhaled fibers irritate the linings of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. The body can’t break down the durable fibers, so the irritation can lead to inflammation and scarring, and eventually tumors.
Asbestos is the number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States. It can cause lung cancer and the more rare mesothelioma, as well as other serious diseases. Preventing exposure needs to be taken seriously because of the severity of these diseases. The long latency period after exposure often prevents early detection of mesothelioma. This means many patients aren’t diagnosed until it has already advanced to a later stage where less treatment options will be available. Patients are typically told they have just 12 – 21 months to live.
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
Because asbestos was so widely used in construction and various other fields, countless people are at risk of being exposed to the toxin at work, whether they work with the mineral directly or not.
Certain occupations face a much higher risk of being exposed to asbestos. Mechanics, electricians, firefighters, and construction workers are all among the most at risk occupations. Data shows construction workers especially face the most hazards at work. It’s estimated that over 1.3 million construction workers are exposed to asbestos containing materials each year. Additionally, families of workers in these fields also face the risk of secondhand exposure to the toxin if the fibers are brought home on any clothing or equipment.
Veterans also likely face exposure during their years of service. Throughout the military branches, asbestos was widely used in various buildings, vehicles, aircrafts, and ships. Navy veterans in particular face a higher risk because the ships they lived and worked on likely contained large amounts of asbestos in tight quarters, making any damaged asbestos much more concentrated in the air. Veterans make up about one-third of all mesothelioma diagnoses.
The average employee working in an office can also be at risk. Older buildings and schools built prior to 1980 are likely to contain some level of asbestos somewhere. Though it’s not an immediate danger as long as the asbestos containing materials are in good condition, it’s important to be aware of during any potential construction or renovations to the office space that may disturb the asbestos.
Help for Workers Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
Workers who are exposed to asbestos on the job and later diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease need to be aware of their legal rights. Along with a typically poor prognosis, mesothelioma patients face significant treatment costs. For those asbestos victims, there are opportunities to receive financial assistance to help offset these medical expenses.
Workers’ compensation is one option workers can pursue for being wrongfully exposed to asbestos. This can help replace lost wages as well as provide help with medical bills. Each state has its own regulations, including the statute of limitations for these cases and the maximum compensation available per claimant.
Workers can also pursue other types of claims. In general there are two types of claims: personal injury for the asbestos victim or a wrongful death claim for surviving loved ones. Compensation may be available through mesothelioma lawsuits or asbestos bankruptcy trust funds. Veterans may also be eligible for benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
If you or a loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact a qualified mesothelioma lawyer to determine which option would be the best for your individual case.