The Construction Industry and Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos was once used in the construction of many buildings and structures. If asbestos buildings undergo remodeling or demolition projects, nearby workers may have been exposed.
Construction Workers and Asbestos
There are multiple industries at risk for dangerous exposure to a carcinogenic (i.e., cancer-causing) mineral known as asbestos, and the construction industry is one of them. The ore was used mostly in many building projects since the early 1900s (before it was classified as dangerous). This was because of how resilient asbestos was against the elements. Especially fire and electrical heat.
Workers are likely to encounter the toxin include a variety of building materials like coatings, friction products, gaskets, heat resistant fabrics, and packaging.
Risks for Construction Workers
Construction workers must be wary of encountering harmful substances in their line of work especially those in jobs pre-1982. This is largely because asbestos is most dangerous when it’s friable or in a crumbled, powdery state that generally occurs during construction, renovation, and demolition projects. When it’s in this form, the toxic, spindly fibers are expelled into the air and more easily swallowed by employees or residents nearby.
The mineral can be found embedded in the following structures:
- Areas around wood-burning stoves (walls, floors)
- Attic and wall insulation
- Clutches and brakes (automobiles, aircraft)
- Floor tiles, adhesives, and backings made of vinyl
- Steam and hot water pipes
- Textured paint and patching compounds (walls, ceilings)
- Oil and coal furnaces and their gaskets
The mineral can be found in several other products as well. Contaminated products are relatively safe unless the asbestos fibers can be expelled into the air.
Construction Trades at Risk of Exposure
Dangerous asbestos exposure occurs among a variety of construction trades. Additionally, some of these trades can also fit into other industries.
Construction trades at risk for prolonged exposure are:
A person employed in nuclear and fossil power plants, shipyards, refineries, or chemical plants. A boilermaker’s objective is to work on (as the name suggests) boilers, pressure vessels, and other like machinery.
This trade mainly involves developing structures made of wood. Specific carpenters at risk include those working in framing houses, buildings, and other buildings. This also includes general contractors that work on remodels.
Cement and Concrete Finisher
Cement and concrete finishers are the ones in charge of pouring, smoothing, and finishing surfaces. This can include working on walkways, roads, curbs, and walls by use of power and hand tools.
During construction projects, sand, silt, and debris often flow downstream and can contaminate water bodies (rivers, streams, lakes). Dredge operators work to clean up the site. This process, specifically, is called dredging.
Electrician and Electrical Technician
Trades that specialize in electrical wiring of buildings and equipment. Exposure risk is high for technicians that work in older structures and buildings that may still contain asbestos.
Many jobs fall under the title “equipment operator.” They are also be known as “heavy equipment operators” if the operated machinery also falls under this category. Equipment operators drive, function, and manage all construction equipment.
As the name suggests, the flooring installer is the person who installs a variety of flooring and floor coverings. Flooring installers work with carpeting, ceramic tile, concrete, tile, wood flooring, and vinyl types.
Foreman or Construction Manager
This person develops an action plan and leads the crew in all projects. They’re often the first person on the worksite and the last person to leave.
Also known as Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers, HVAC technicians install, service, and maintain all heating and cooling ventilation systems in building structures. This service helps control air quality and temperature.
These workers install insulation and related products (protective coverings, coatings, and finishes in mechanical systems) that go into structures to help maintain and control the temperature in buildings. Workers at significant risk would involve those that work primarily inside older places in poorly ventilated areas.
Crew members in this trade build and tear down structural iron and steel frames, and install iron and steel for building support and development. Ironworkers can also be known as steel erectors or structural ironworkers. Ironworkers in older buildings are the most at risk.
This trade can encompass several positions based on what the collective construction crew needs help with. Primarily, the laborer performs physical labor and tasks to assist other trade positions. Laborers can be tasked with cleaning up job sites and debris, carrying equipment, or moving machinery.
Also known as stonemasons or marble setters and polishers, masons aptly construct structures with bricks, blocks, stone, concrete, and natural stone. These can include walls, walkways, patios, and surfaces.
This trade can be performed on a variety of commercial and residential projects. Painters working in poorly ventilated areas inside (instead of outside) are at higher risk for dangerous levels of toxic exposure.
The worker who layers plaster on walls, moldings, or ceilings is known as a plasterer. A plasterer may also work with cement, stucco, or ornamental plaster.
Plumber, Pipefitter, Steamfitter
This is the person who installs, fixes, and maintains the plumbing and draining pipe systems in buildings.
Sheet Metal Worker
Sheet metal workers fabricate and install products made of metal sheets. An example is air conditioning and ventilation ducts.
A roofer is someone that works on roof coverings. Roofers may apply weather and leak-proof materials to increase R-value and heating/cooling efficiency.
An employee that combines or cuts metal pieces using special tools and equipment. Welders that repair damaged structures have the highest risk of exposure to carcinogens.
Bans on Asbestos Handling
Once researchers discovered that prolonged exposure to asbestos caused harmful effects to human health, the use of the mineral in building and construction products and activities became largely reduced through regulation.
Laws were put in place that focused on enforcing restrictions on the handling and removal of all asbestos products to help protect unknowing workers and residents nearby.
Some rules differ by state, and then there are national regulations enforced everywhere in the U.S. Most of these regulations hold the building owners, managers, and contractors responsible for ensuring the worksite is free of all harmful chemicals before employees or residents are allowed to occupy it.
Legal Aid and Compensation
If a construction worker is exposed to asbestos while at a job site and develops a related disease like lung cancer or mesothelioma, they may be eligible to take legal action. There are laws in place to protect employees from negligent exposure to harmful chemicals, and money that can be made available to help those who fall ill due to this negligence.
An experienced attorney can go over the crucial details of a potential legal claim, and map out the best steps for moving forward.