We rely on a variety of construction workers to build the structures we live and work in. Not only do they create new structures for our changing community, but they also remodel existing structures so that they can adapt to our changing needs.
Unfortunately, these vital workers are among the people most impacted by asbestos exposure. What should you know about construction workers and the challenges created by asbestos exposure?
Construction workers in our community
Whether the project is a home on a residential street or an industrial facility meant to employ hundreds, a construction job site can involve a wide variety of skilled tradesmen. Depending on the structure being built, these may include:
- Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters
- Bricklayers and stonemasons
- Insulation workers
Because of the many different skills involved in construction work, construction workers in our community might be part of a variety of different professional organizations. For example, masonry workers might be a part of the Northwest Concrete Masonry Association, while electricians may be part of a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) like IBEW Local 46.
How might construction workers be exposed to asbestos?
Construction workers face a variety of different hazards in the workplace. Power tools can increase the risk of injuries related to the force of the tool itself or the electricity used to power it. Work that takes workers off the ground can lead to the risk of serious injuries in a fall. Vehicles and large machinery come with their own risks both for those driving and for those working around them.
Unfortunately, one serious risk to construction workers’ health and lives went unseen and unnoticed by construction workers for many years: asbestos. These fibers are strong and highly fire-resistant, and those properties made them a common material in construction materials for years. Some of the many construction materials that may have contained asbestos include:
- Asphalt, vinyl, and other floor tiles
- Cement siding
- Sound absorbing or decorative plaster
- Roofing shingles
- Insulation, including insulation used for pipes and boilers
These materials contained asbestos for many decades before their use was discontinued. For example, it wasn’t until 1977 that the government forbid asbestos use in drywall, spackling products, and other materials commonly used in homes and other buildings. Unfortunately, because of its long-term and widespread use, materials containing asbestos can still be found in homes, schools, office buildings, factories, industrial settings, and many other structures around us.
What impact could asbestos exposure have on a construction worker?
Any work done on asbestos-containing materials could release these highly carcinogenic fibers into the air. When asbestos fibers were a common component in building materials, a worker might have experienced asbestos exposure while transporting, cutting, installing or repairing materials. Even after these fibers were not a part of new materials, construction workers repairing, remodeling or demolishing older structures could still be exposed.
Studies around the world have shown that construction work can lead to increased asbestos exposure as well as increased risk of life-changing asbestos-related conditions. Asbestos fibers can lead to scarring in the lungs as well as mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers. The symptoms of these conditions may not appear for many years after asbestos exposure.
While mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health conditions are significant challenges both for construction workers and their families, they do not have to face these difficulties alone. It is important for people impacted by asbestos exposure to have experienced legal guidance as they explore their options. Financial support may be available to help them address the cost of treatment for these chronic illnesses and the suffering they have experienced.