Industrial workers produce a variety of materials and products in factory settings using specialized skills. Industrial workers in the past were at a high risk of exposure to asbestos in machinery, which led to many cases of mesothelioma. Even with occupational health and safety rules, some modern workers may still be exposed.
What Do Industrial Workers Do?
Industrial workers, or factory workers, make up a broad spectrum of people who are employed to produce materials and products. Industrial workers 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. Some are unskilled workers, but many are highly skilled and trained to do specific jobs.
How Is Asbestos Used in Industrial Workplaces?
Factories where industrial workers are employed often contain asbestos or once contained asbestos. It was used to protect against the heat of manufacturing and refining materials. Asbestos is a mineral with the unique properties of durability as well as resistance to fire, heat, electricity, and chemical reactions.
Fire is a possible danger in industrial plants because they often use extreme heat 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:
- Pipe wrappings
- Electric motor components
- Electrical conduits
In addition, some plants 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.
How Are Industrial Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Older industrial workers had a higher risk of asbestos exposure than those working in plants today. Before 1980, industrial employees did not have the benefit of asbestos regulations or workplace safety rules.
Industrial workers risked asbestos exposure in several ways:
- Workers who handled asbestos as part of the industrial process had the greatest risk.
- 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 who repair and maintain older equipment and building components. Older components often still contain asbestos that could be loosened by repairs which would put fibers into the air.
When disrupted, asbestos releases fibers into the air that can be inhaled. Without control measures or safety gear, workers breathe in asbestos fibers, which then cause damage to tissues inside the body.
Research Puts Industrial Workers at High Risk for Asbestos Illness
Research shows that industrial workers are exposed to asbestos and that exposure increases the risk of developing certain illnesses:
- One study found that people working with 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 asbestos exposure.
- In another study, workers in a plant that manufactured asbestos cement had a greater risk of developing mesothelioma than the general population. Most were not diagnosed with this cancer until forty years after working in the industrial setting.
Are Industrial Workers Still at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
People working in factories today have much lower risks of coming into contact with asbestos. It is not used in most industries, and workplace safety and exposure regulations are much stricter now than in the past.
There is still some risk that today’s industrial workers will be exposed to asbestos. One reason is that asbestos lingers in old industrial buildings. If the building has not been completely abated, damaged and worn asbestos materials, like insulation, can contaminate the air.
Factory machinery and equipment sometimes still contain asbestos too. Friction components like clutches and brakes often still have asbestos, which puts maintenance workers at particular risk of exposure.
There is still one industry that actively uses asbestos. Chlor-alkali plants, which produce chlorine, are still legally allowed to use asbestos in production. Approximately one-third of these plants still choose to use asbestos diaphragms. This puts workers and nearby residents at risk.
Lawsuits Filed by Industrial Workers
People who become sick years after working in an industrial setting may have asbestos-related health problems. These workers may choose to file a lawsuit if they believe someone was negligent in their illness.
In one asbestos-related lawsuit, a welder and mechanic worked with products containing asbestos for twelve years. He also wore protective gear that contained asbestos, eventually becoming ill as a result. He died before the conclusion of his case, although the jury decided in the worker’s favor.
In 2016, the widow of a millwright was awarded nearly $1.1 million in damages by a jury in Pennsylvania. Her husband, Valent Rabovksy, died from mesothelioma after working in industrial settings with asbestos. Companies found liable in the lawsuit included the John Crane Company, Foster Wheeler, and others.
Some lawsuits show just how widespread asbestos exposure was in factories in the past. Jayne Menssen worked as a secretary at a rubber factory in Indiana. The facility used a lot of asbestos which ultimately caused her to develop mesothelioma. She won a $17.87 million verdict against asbestos suppliers like Honeywell International and Pneumo Abex.
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.
What to Do if You Believe Your Industrial Workplace Has Asbestos
If you worked in an industrial plant and are now struggling with mesothelioma, you can take action. Current industrial workers should know their rights regarding a safe workplace.
Know Your Workplace Rights
It is the employer’s responsibility to adhere to regulations regarding asbestos use and how workers should be protected. As a worker, you should know your rights so that you can ensure they are not violated.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for workplace safety for various industries and contaminants.
OSHA asbestos guidelines require employers to provide workers with a safe workplace that minimizes harm from asbestos exposure. This includes maintaining acceptable minimum exposure limits, providing training and safety gear, monitoring asbestos levels, and more.
File a Complaint
If you know your rights for protection against asbestos, you can fight for them and for a safer workplace. If you believe your employer is not following OSHA asbestos safety guidelines, contact OSHA to file a complaint and trigger a review.
How To Seek Compensation
They will help you determine the companies responsible for your exposure. This might include your employer or asbestos companies that supplied your workplace.
Legal options for compensation include filing a lawsuit to get a settlement or jury award or filing a claim with an asbestos trust fund. Companies that went bankrupt over asbestos litigation set up these trusts to compensate future claimants.
It’s important that you act quickly. Talk to a lawyer right away, so you don’t miss your chance to seek justice and get compensated.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.