According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as many as 1.3 million people are exposed to asbestos in their workplace in the United States. Though most people are aware of the link between asbestos exposure and serious health problems. Many do not know the facts about asbestos, such as what asbestos is, what occupations most frequently expose employees to asbestos, and what steps can be taken to avoid asbestos related health problems such as mesothelioma.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that has been used in various industries due to its durability and flame resistance. Eventually, it came to light that regular asbestos exposure can cause a serious disease called mesothelioma. Though everyone breathes asbestos in trace amounts, since it occurs naturally in the environment, regularly breathing asbestos fibers at work can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and other breathing problems. Asbestos has since been classified as a carcinogen.
Asbestos related health problems include:
- lung cancer
- a form of cancer found in the lining of the chest and abdomen called mesothelioma
- asbestosis, which involves lung inflammation and buildup that can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and permanent lung damage
- colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers, and
- abnormalities in the lining of the chest cavity, such as thickening and calcification
The most serious effects of asbestos are found in people who have experienced prolonged exposure to asbestos, especially older people who were in the workforce long before the dangers of asbestos were identified. Still, exposure to asbestos is fairly common, especially in occupations such as:
- Construction, renovation, and demolition
- paper mills
- ship building
- heating and cooling equipment repair
- automotive repair, especially brake and clutch repair
- janitorial jobs in buildings with deteriorating asbestos
- manufacturing of products containing asbestos
Employees do have certain rights regarding asbestos exposure, depending on their occupation.OSHA and other workplace safety agencies work to regulate asbestos exposure, and set certain exposure limits for some industries. There is a good chance your employer is legally required to take certain measures to prevent or limit asbestos exposure on the job.
Depending on your occupation, you could be entitled to:
- special training for employees who will be working around asbestos
- adequately ventilated work spaces
- warning signs and instructions in areas where asbestos-related work is being performed
- monitoring of asbestos exposure levels for employees
- protective equipment such as coveralls, gloves, face shields, goggles, foot coverings, and respirators
- post-exposure precautions, such as showers
- medical examinations for employees exposed to high levels of asbestos
If you have experienced health problems related to asbestos exposure in the workplace, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. You may be able to take legal action against the company the manufactured the asbestos, the company that manufactured the protective equipment that failed to protect you, the owner of the work premises, or the contracts and sub-contractors involved in the work being performed.
It is important to note that usually, workers’ compensation is the prescribed route, rather than a lawsuit, for asbestos-related health problems. Also, sometimes asbestos victim compensation funds are already in place, which can make the process of getting compensation much easier.