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Industrial workers have long been at risk of asbestos exposure and the illnesses it causes. Asbestos was once commonly used in a variety of industrial materials. While there are currently regulations restricting its use, asbestos is still used in some materials. Even with occupational health and safety rules, some modern workers may still be exposed. And older workers are now suffering the consequences of their previous exposure.
Workers can inhale tiny airborne asbestos fibers that cause damage over time, eventually resulting in terrible conditions like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Some industrial workers have sued companies over these illnesses and won, getting both compensatory damages and justice.
Industrial workers are a broad spectrum of people who are employed to produce materials. These workers, mostly working in large factories or plants, use raw materials to refine and produce usable products. Industrial workers may be foremen or supervisors, manual laborers, machinists, millwrights, welders, smelters, mechanics or metal workers. Frequently, these people work in places that may contain asbestos to protect against the heat of manufacturing and refining materials. Unfortunately, they may also work directly with materials made with asbestos.
Asbestos in Industrial Settings
For years, asbestos has been used in a variety of building materials and industrial applications. Asbestos is a mineral with the unique properties of durability as well as resistance to fire, heat, electricity, and chemical reactions. In an industrial plant fire is a possible danger because extreme heat is often involved in the manufacturing process. Many industrial facilities were built with asbestos materials to reduce heat loss, protect workers, and prevent fires. Factories may also include asbestos in the insulation, pipe wrappings, flooring, cement, ceiling tiles, adhesives, and more.
In addition, some plants actually manufactured materials that contained asbestos. For example, a plant that manufactured asbestos insulation may have had asbestos in the building, machinery, and materials being used directly by the workers. Older workers are most at risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses because they worked extensively in facilities where asbestos use was not regulated. Today, employers are required by law to follow specific safety protocols to protect workers from asbestos.
How Industrial Workers Are Exposed to Asbestos
Older industrial workers had a higher risk of asbestos exposure than those working in plants today. Prior to 1980, industrial employees did not have the benefit of asbestos regulations or workplace safety rules. Workers who handled asbestos as part of the industrial process had the greatest risk. However, workers could be exposed through the machinery and the building and even in facilities that did not work directly with asbestos. Asbestos fibers could contaminate the air when cutting into insulation or other materials to make repairs.
Workers may also have been exposed by using protective equipment. Workers in industrial settings that used high temperatures, like smelting or refining ore, likely used gloves, aprons, and other protective clothing that contained asbestos. In very hot environments, asbestos used to insulate and protect workers could become damaged, increasing the risk of airborne asbestos. Even modern industrial workers are at risk of asbestos exposure. Most at risk are workers that repair and maintain older equipment and building components. Often, older components still contain asbestos that could be loosened by repairs which would put fibers into the air.
Research shows that industrial workers are exposed to asbestos and that exposure increases the risk of developing certain illnesses. For example, one study found people working in industrial insulation or working as machine operators were at the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma. In a group of more than 7,000 industrial workers, more than 650 died of peritoneal cancer. Peritoneal cancer is a rare type of mesothelioma that attacks the lining of the abdominal cavity.
Another study investigated machinery erectors and millwrights in the New York area. Nearly half of these 110 workers had abnormalities of the pleura, the tissue in the chest cavity. In the most common form of mesothelioma, this tissue develops tumors. Several workers also had thickening of the pleura, and several had symptoms of interstitial lung disease. The findings were consistent with exposure to asbestos. In another study, workers in a plant that manufactured asbestos cement had greater risk of developing mesothelioma than the general population. Most were not diagnosed with this cancer until 40 years after working in the industrial setting.
People who become sick years after working in an industrial setting may be facing asbestos-related health problems. These workers may choose to file a lawsuit if they believe someone was negligent in their illnesses.
In one asbestos-related lawsuit, a welder and mechanic worked with products containing asbestos for 12 years. He also wore protective gear that contained asbestos, eventually becoming ill as a result. He died before the conclusion of his case although it was decided in the worker’s favor. Lawsuits like these are the right of any industrial worker exposed to asbestos because of products, materials, and equipment. If workers were not warned of the risks or given necessary training and safety gear for protection, they were put at risk of later developing asbestos-related diseases.
If you worked in an industrial plant and are now struggling with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related condition, you have rights. Current industrial workers should know their rights regarding a safe workplace. It is the employer’s responsibility to adhere to regulations regarding asbestos use and how workers should be protected. If your employer has let you down, you may be able to make a case to get compensatory damages.
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.