We depend on a complex system to bring power to our homes, workplaces and public spaces. We also rely on electricians to ensure that we can safely and effectively use that power both in our daily work and in our personal lives.
Unfortunately, these electrical workers face a significant risk of asbestos exposure. This is especially true for those who worked in this trade when asbestos exposure was more common and for those working on older buildings. What should you know about the ways that asbestos-related diseases can impact electrical workers?
Electricians in our community
Many people may think of electricians working on the wiring in their home, ensuring that their house remains lit and comfortable and that the wiring is safe. However, electrical workers also work in various industrial settings. For example, electrical workers at the shipyards in our area install, repair and replace shipboard electrical systems to ensure that these vessels function correctly. They may manage the wiring in production facilities that allows those factories to operate. This makes them critical to every aspect of our lives.
Electricians and other electrical workers in our area are often part of a labor union like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Local chapters of this union include IBEW Local 46, IBEW Local 483 and IBEW Local 191.
How might work as an electrician lead to asbestos exposure?
Asbestos fibers are highly heat-resistant, and manufacturers used asbestos fibers to decrease the risk of fires in a variety of different settings for most of the 20th century. In electrical work, these properties as well as asbestos’s low conductivity led manufacturers to use it frequently in materials like wires, tape, insulation, conduits, cables, electrical meters and fuse boxes.
Working directly with asbestos-containing materials significantly increased the risk for electrical workers when use of asbestos in these materials was at its height. Electricians working on older buildings may also find themselves exposed to this hazardous material when working on older structures.
In addition to working directly with materials containing asbestos, electricians may also risk exposure to asbestos as they drill or cut into the structure of a building to install, repair or replace wiring. This work can disturb asbestos contained in other materials like boilers and pipes, walls, cement sheets and roofing materials. Cutting or drilling can throw asbestos fibers into the air where workers may breathe them in or the fibers may settle on their skin, hair and clothing.
What impact could asbestos exposure have on an electrician?
When airborne, asbestos fibers can quickly enter workers’ lungs. There, these fibers can cause scarring of the lung tissue. Asbestos is also a known carcinogen, and exposure to this hazardous material commonly leads to mesothelioma in addition to other cancers.
Studies have long indicated that electrical workers are at increased risk of asbestos-related disease, with one 1988 study focusing specifically on the heightened risk of asbestosis in this trade. More recent studies reflect that early concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated in 2017 that mesothelioma fatalities are a higher risk for electrical workers than for the general population.
Unfortunately, a worker’s initial exposure to asbestos may be years or decades before they develop the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases. Because of this, it can be important for workers and their families to seek experienced legal guidance after mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases impact their life or loved ones. A skilled attorney familiar with asbestos-related cases can help them explore their options and seek financial support.