Asbestos exposure without your permission or knowledge is not acceptable at any time but particularly not at work. We all work because as responsible adults we need to make a living. Many of us also come to work every day because we love what we do, we have developed a camaraderie with our co-workers and a level of expertise in our field. That work ethic and dedication should not be exploited by exposing you to lethal asbestos. But sadly asbestos exposure on the job is still much too common.
Here we are going to take a look at occupational asbestos exposure and what you can do about it.
Asbestos Exposure – The Top Two Most Hazardous Occupations
Dangerous asbestos exposure that can lead to fatal diseases like mesothelioma most often occurs when asbestos is smashed, crushed, hit with a hammer, an axe, or any tool with the purpose of breaking up the material. Breaking apart asbestos sends asbestos dust into the air. When asbestos dust is inhaled, it can find its way into the body’s vital organs, especially the lungs, where it silently begins damaging the body.
Prized for its fire retardant characteristics, asbestos was often used as a construction material, especially for insulation, beginning in the late 1800s. The toxic effects of asbestos exposure were widely known by the 1920s but it continued to be used in building materials and other products. Although its use was curtailed in the 1970s, nearly every building in the U.S. built before that time contains asbestos.
Unfortunately, this prevalence of asbestos in old buildings and homes makes construction work and firefighting two of the most hazardous occupations for asbestos exposure risk.
Whether it is breaking down walls for a demolition or repair project or to rescue residents from flames, both construction workers and firefighters may be inhaling dangerous asbestos dust.
About 1.3 million construction workers are currently exposed to asbestos, according to the American Lung Association. This is one reason that Men’s Health Magazine rated construction work as one of the jobs mostly likely to cause illness.
Mesothelioma strikes firefighters at double the rate of the rest of the population, according to a recent study. Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer with only one known cause – inhaling asbestos dust.
Other jobs with a history of high asbestos exposure risk include:
- Auto mechanic
- Home Inspector
- Shipyard worker
- Cement plant worker
- Chemical plant worker
Top States For Asbestos Exposure
While asbestos exposure is a nationwide concern, several states seem to lead the country in asbestos danger. According to insurance industry statistics, the following five states are home to the most asbestos-connected deaths—and also present more asbestos exposure risks:
- New York
These states also have the most people, which may in part account for the higher death rates. The states listed below have asbestos-related death rates at a level 50 to 100% higher than the national average.
- West Virginia
How can workers protect themselves from asbestos exposure?
There is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos. Every occupational exposure to asbestos contributes to the risk of getting an asbestos-related disease. Where there is exposure, employers are required to protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling certain work practices and instituting mechanisms to reduce airborne levels. Employers are required to ensure exposure is reduced by using administrative controls and provide for the wearing of personal protective equipment. Medical monitoring of workers is also required when legal limits and asbestos exposure times are exceeded.
Workers should use all protective equipment provided by their employers and follow recommended workplace practices and safety procedures. For example, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators that fit properly should be worn by workers when required.
What can be done to reduce asbestos exposure danger at work?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a component of the U.S. Department of Labor and is the federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in maritime, construction, manufacturing, and service workplaces.
Worker exposure to asbestos hazards are addressed in specific OSHA standards for the construction industry, general industry and shipyard employment sectors. These standards reduce the risk to workers by requiring that employers provide personal exposure monitoring to assess the risk and hazard awareness training for operations where there is any potential exposure to asbestos. Airborne levels of asbestos are never to exceed legal worker exposure limits.
Asbestos Exposure at Work – What are your rights?
Asbestos exposure without warning or safety precautions is not acceptable. Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information, see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers’ Rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Workers can file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they notice that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. File a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by are more likely to result in an inspection.