Construction workers have some of the highest risks of asbestos exposure. While exposure risks were higher in the past, asbestos is still a major issue in older buildings and even in some new products. Any construction worker past or present may be at risk for asbestos exposure and related diseases like mesothelioma.
How Was Asbestos Used in Construction in the Past?
Construction workers at the greatest risk for asbestos-related illnesses worked in the industry before the mid-to-late-1970s. During this period, asbestos was used in nearly every aspect of construction.
Manufacturers of construction materials used asbestos because it was inexpensive, readily available, added strength to materials, and resisted fire and heat loss.
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Putty, caulk, cement, and plaster
- Thermal insulation
- Spray-on coatings
- Ceiling tiles
- Vinyl flooring
- Industrial pipe wrapping
Those who worked in the construction industry when these materials commonly contained asbestos were likely exposed to asbestos. Some are only now experiencing the consequences because asbestos-related illnesses have long latency periods.
Deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma increased in the 1990s and 2000s. These continue to grow as older construction workers are diagnosed with these conditions.
Are Construction Workers Still at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
Although construction workers were at the greatest risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses, current workers are still at risk of exposure. According to OSHA, 1.3 million construction workers currently face asbestos exposure risks on the job.
OSHA regulates workplace safety concerning asbestos exposure, but not all employers comply with regulations. When proper safety measures are not followed or enforced, workers may be at considerable risk for asbestos exposure.
Construction workers may also risk exposure to asbestos in new construction materials. Asbestos is still legal in some products. These include certain adhesives, floor backing, drywall taping compounds, insulation, ductwork connectors, roofing felt, cement sheets, roof coatings, millboard, and vinyl floor tiles.
Which Construction Jobs Have the Highest Risks of Asbestos Exposure?
Construction jobs that disrupt or disturb older materials present the biggest risk of asbestos exposure. Many older buildings still contain asbestos materials, which, when disrupted, can cause harm.
Some of the current jobs with the greatest asbestos risk include:
- Demolition workers
- Crain operators
- Bulldozer operators
- Insulation workers
Workers in any of these roles may disrupt old asbestos materials and inhale the fibers released in the process.
Demolition of old buildings is a hazardous activity. Workers responsible for tearing down a building could expose or crush asbestos in the process. This sends asbestos fibers into the air, where they can anywhere nearby inhale them.
Even smaller-scale jobs, like renovation or repair, can expose workers to asbestos, especially when done on older buildings. In these situations, the building should first be inspected for asbestos. If any is found, it should be abated or removed by trained and licensed professionals.
Construction Materials That Contained Asbestos
During peak asbestos use, it could be found in nearly every material that went into buildings. Some of the most important and heaviest applications of asbestos in construction products include:
- Ceiling tiles
- Cement pipes
- Containers for corrosive chemicals
- Electrical conduits
- Heat pads
- Heat-resistant fabrics
- Joint compound
- Patching compound
- Pipe covering and insulation
- Roofing materials
- Siding shingles
- Textured paint
- Walls and floors used around wood stoves
Which Companies Made Asbestos Construction Materials?
Many companies manufactured construction products using asbestos. This is an incomplete list but includes several of the major companies that supplied the industry with asbestos materials:
- American Olean Tile Company
- Bestwall Gypsum
- C.E Thurston & Sons
- California Portland Cement
- Congoleum Corporation
- Flintkote Company
- Fuller-Austin Insulation
- Johns Manville
- Kentile Floors
- National Gypsum
- Owens Corning
- Synkoloid, previously Artra Group
- U.S. Mineral Products
- W.R. Grace
How Does Asbestos Exposure Harm Construction Workers?
Disrupted asbestos releases fibers and dust into the air that workers can inhale. The fibers get stuck in tissues in the body where they cause damage. Not everyone will get sick as a result, but in some workers, this damage causes lung scarring, pleural plaques, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, but most people who get sick were exposed to it repeatedly over several years on the job.
Multiple studies into the risk construction workers face confirm they are in danger of developing asbestos-related illnesses. These are just two examples.
Cancer Deaths in North Carolina Construction Workers
One study investigated North Carolina construction workers who died between 1988 and 1994. The researchers found these construction workers were more likely to have died from cancer (including pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma) when compared to the general population.
Asbestos in Lung Tissue of Construction Workers
In another study, researchers found that among 952 cases of mesothelioma, 251 worked in the construction industry.
The researchers also found a significant amount of asbestos fibers in the lungs of construction workers with mesothelioma. This discovery cemented the connection between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure.
How Can Construction Workers Protect Themselves from Asbestos?
Exposure risks were much higher in the construction industry in the past, but workers can still encounter asbestos today. All construction workers should be aware of the risks, any asbestos in their workplace, and their rights to safe conditions.
OSHA is the most important regulator for workplace safety. OSHA ensures these protections for construction workers against asbestos:
- The exposure limit for workers in any industry is just 0.1 fibers per square centimeter, and employers must actively comply with the limit.
- Employers are required to communicate clearly with workers if there is asbestos on the job and what the risks are.
- Employers must regularly monitor workplace asbestos.
- Workers are entitled to protective gear if working around asbestos, including respirators.
- Workers must have access to medical surveillance if exposed to asbestos.
If you work in construction and worry that your employer is not complying with these regulations, you can file a complaint with OSHA.
Can Construction Workers Get Compensation for Asbestos Exposure?
Yes, construction workers can seek compensation through legal actions if they become sick from workplace asbestos exposure. There are two main ways to get compensation:
- Lawsuit. Workplace asbestos exposure is considered negligent because companies failed to notify workers in the past of the risks to their health. A mesothelioma lawyer works with victims of exposure to determine the companies that supplied their workplace with asbestos. They then help them file lawsuits to sue those companies to seek a settlement or jury verdict.
- Asbestos Trust Fund. Many of these companies went bankrupt due to asbestos litigation. As part of the bankruptcy process, they set up asbestos trust funds to compensate future claimants. Workers with asbestos illnesses can file claims with these trusts.
If you worked in construction and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, contact a mesothelioma lawyer. They will review your case for free, explain your legal options, and help you take the next steps.
Examples of Asbestos Lawsuits in the Construction Industry
Workers exposed to asbestos in the construction industry and have suffered illnesses because of it have sought legal action through a mesothelioma lawsuit.
In one such case, a ceiling tile installer developed mesothelioma after working with products that contained asbestos. In 2007, the installer died from the disease; however, his family took over his case and won a settlement from Bondex International, Simpson Timber Co., and Conwed Corp.
These were the companies that manufactured the ceiling tiles he had installed for so many years. Attorneys successfully made the case that the inhalation of dust from these ceiling tiles caused mesothelioma. A jury awarded a settlement of $4.5 million.
Another case involved Union Carbide, a company that provided asbestos to manufacturers of construction materials. In 2012, a jury awarded a California man $48 million, including $18 million in punitive damages against Union Carbide. Other companies targeted in the lawsuit settled before going to trial.
The California construction worker was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011. The jury awarded $30 million in compensatory damages for physical pain and emotional distress.
Construction asbestos remains a reality for current workers. Regulations have helped, but workers must rely on employers and manufacturers to follow regulations and provide safe work environments. If you worked in the construction industry and are now suffering from mesothelioma or other related illnesses, you can seek justice through a lawsuit to gain compensation for your suffering.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.