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Construction is a dangerous industry. In addition to the risk of falls, electrocutions, and falling objects, there is also the risk of asbestos exposure. Although regulations have limited the use of asbestos in construction materials, older buildings often contain this dangerous mineral and it is still used in some new construction materials.
Construction workers have an elevated risk of asbestos exposure. This includes those who work in demolition and restoration, as well as electricians, plumbers, and roofers. Anyone involved in the construction industry should be aware of the risks of asbestos and how it can lead to serious health conditions like mesothelioma.
Asbestos Use before the mid-1970s
Construction workers at the greatest risk for asbestos-related illnesses are those that worked in the industry before the mid- to late-1970s. During this time period, asbestos was used in nearly every aspect of construction. Asbestos was commonly used because it was inexpensive, readily available, added strength to materials and resisted fire and heat loss. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stated the following materials, if installed before 1981, can be assumed to contain asbestos:
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Putty, caulk, cement, and plaster
- Thermal insulation
- Spray-on coatings
- Ceiling tiles
- Vinyl flooring
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. These continue to increase as older construction workers are diagnosed with these conditions.
Construction Workers Still at Risk
Although construction workers were at the greatest risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses, current workers are are still at risk of exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.3 million construction workers are currently exposed to asbestos on the job.
OSHA regulates workplace safety with respect to asbestos exposure, but not all employers comply with regulations. When proper safety measures are not followed or enforced workers may be at a considerable risk for asbestos exposure.
Construction workers may also risk exposure with new construction materials. Asbestos can still be legally used 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.
Demolition, Renovation, and Repair
Construction jobs that disrupt or disturb older materials present the biggest risk of asbestos exposure. Demolition of old buildings is a particularly risky 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 be easily inhaled.
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.
Studies of Workplace Asbestos Exposure in the Construction Industry
Multiple studies into the risk construction workers face confirm they are in danger of developing asbestos-related illnesses. For example, one study investigated North Carolina construction workers who died between 1988 and 1994. The researchers found these workers were more likely to have died from cancer (including pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma) when compared to the general population.
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.
Workers who have been exposed to asbestos in the construction industry and have suffered illnesses because of it have sought legal action through a mesothelioma lawsuit. Workers have a right to a safe workplace. If an employer or materials manufacturer is found liable of putting workers in danger, the employer may have to pay a settlement award.
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 Interantional, 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, which included $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.
There are many workers at risk of asbestos exposure in many industries. However, construction workers have historically been at a high risk of exposure and illness. 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 suffering.
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.