For decades, asbestos was a component in thousands of products. These products ranged from consumer cosmetics, to construction materials, to Navy vessels. The reasoning behind its use was simple – asbestos was a cheap and resistant to heat. From protecting workers and sailors from hot water pipes to protective clothing worn by oil refinery workers, asbestos fibers seemed like a miracle.
Unfortunately, the companies knew what the workers did not, that when the products containing asbestos fibers are used as intended they release asbestos dust, and individuals inhale the material. Inhalation could result in serious lung diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and many forms of lung cancer.
While asbestos is now less actively used as a material component, workers are still exposed through existing materials or newly discovered hazards. By examining work-related injury reports from 1999 to 2012, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified several high-risk occupations, including:
- Construction workers: Whether in a new construction or renovation project, construction workers are typically exposed to asbestos-laden materials such as insulation, roofing materials, tiling and steam pipes.
- Manufacturing and industrial workers: In addition to many heat-resistant products that were manufactured, industrial plants relied on asbestos materials to protect workers from heat and fire. Machinery such as boilers and generators often contained asbestos.
- Automotive manufacturers and mechanics: Due to the heat-resistant and fire-prevention properties of asbestos, the material was used in numerous automotive parts including brake pads, brake linings and clutch linings. Workers who were exposed to these materials might develop asbestosis, mesothelioma or other severe lung conditions.
- Shipyard workers: Ships, including those operated by the United States Navy, relied on asbestos to prevent heat transfer and protect sailors from being burned. Unfortunately, the material itself was deadly. Engine rooms and pipes used throughout the vessel often contained significant amounts of asbestos.
In addition, there are numerous other occupations where workers might find themselves at risk based on the consistent handling of hazardous products or materials. These occupations can include:
- Factory workers
- Teachers and school faculty
- Oil refinery workers
- Building inspectors
It is not uncommon for lung disease symptoms to occur decades after exposure to asbestos. It is crucial that workers and their loved ones carefully monitor any symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain or a persistent cough. Workers in at-risk occupations should seek the guidance of trusted medical and legal resources to hold negligent employers accountable for the deadly exposure.