In decades past, those tradespeople who were regularly exposed to asbestos most often included individuals who worked in industries such as steel and textile mills, power plants, chemical refineries, and a variety of similar jobs. They often toiled long hours on an assembly line or worked with heavy duty equipment.
They may have been involved in the mining of asbestos or might have worked in a factory that made asbestos-containing products like insulation, tiles, siding, fireproofing items, or any number of the thousands of items that once contained asbestos.
These days, however, the U.S. Center for Disease Control notes that the most occupation asbestos exposures occur during:
… occurring in buildings where asbestos-containing products were installed many years ago. According to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that some 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry are exposed to asbestos on the job during the activities listed above.
Of course, these numbers include not only individuals who are paid to do repair, renovation, removal, or maintenance work in places where asbestos is present, but also include often-unsuspecting homeowners who are exposed while working on an older structure that was built during a time when asbestos use was widespread.
Those in the construction business (or businesses often related to construction) who may be most affected include:
- Demolition workers
- Floor covering workers
Because asbestos was used in so many different construction-related projects, just about any building – residential, commercial, or industrial – built prior to the late 1970s may contain asbestos. The items most often found to contain the toxic material includes insulation, tiles, roofing materials, siding, and drywall adhesives.
Therefore, if you’re demolishing or renovating an older building – whether you’re a professional or an amateur – an asbestos inspection should ALWAYS be completed before any sort of work begins and it should ALWAYS be done by a licensed asbestos professional.
It’s become clear over the past several decades that manufacturers of asbestos-containing products usually realized that the items they were making may have been hazardous to the health of users, yet they continued using this toxic mineral in their products. The reason usually came down to money.
Asbestos was cheap and abundant. Alternatives to asbestos were not. Hence, pennies were saved at the expense of workers who were charged with tasks that kept them in regular contact with these dangerous products.
The result was several generations of construction workers on the high-risk list for developing mesothelioma and other related illnesses.
Making it right
Construction workers who were unnecessarily exposed to asbestos have legal rights pertaining to that negligent exposure and can sue in a court of law if they believe their health was destroyed by an asbestos product manufacturer or perhaps a former employer.
In a recent case in Oregon, a jury awarded $8.75 million to a 65-year-old former construction worker who was consistently exposed to an asbestos-containing wallboard product that, when sanded, would release airborne asbestos.
In this instance, the company ordered to pay restitution was Kaiser Gypsum, the maker of the wallboard. The jury awarded the plaintiff $750,000 for medical expenses and $4 million for pain and suffering, as well as $4 million to his wife for the suffering she has endured and will endure after the loss of her husband, who is expected to live for another 18 months or so.
Also named in the suit were Union Carbide and Georgia Pacific, who settled out of court.