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Construction Workers at Highest Risk of Mesothelioma

construction workers and asbestosMalignant pleural mesothelioma is a type of occupational lung disease that can occur in the lungs after exposure to asbestos materials that occurs in the workplace.  In the case of mesothelioma, asbestos exposure is the primary cause, hence its nickname "asbestos cancer."  In the past few decades, many regulations and employee education efforts have been introduced in an attempt to reduce occupational lung disease, but mesothelioma rates continue to rise both because of the long periods between exposure and diagnosis and because in-place asbestos products are still found in many industries. Workers in the construction industry continue to be at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma.

Construction Workers and Mesothelioma as an Occupational Lung Disease

Of all asbestos products still being produced, 66% are used in construction trades. Disturbing in-place asbestos used in previous construction through renovation and demolition also causes exposure. The most common materials containing asbestos are:

  • Insulation
  • Roofing materials
  • Pipe fittings
  • Drywall

Although asbestos is touted as an insulator studies have shown that asbestos is no more insulative than comparable materials; it is, however, an excellent binder because of its sharp fibers. It is these microscopic fibers that cause mesothelioma.  When asbestos materials deteriorate or are damaged, such as through sawing, cutting, or grinding, the fibers are called “friable,” meaning they can easily become airborne and inhaled. Once in the body, asbestos causes mesothelioma and asbestosis, another occupational lung disease caused by asbestos exposure with similar symptoms to mesothelioma. Asbestos related diseases are ranked in the same categories as:

  • Chemical worker’s lung
  • Black lung
  • Silicosis

Asbestos-related occupational lung disease is serious. There is no known cure for mesothelioma or asbestosis and the symptoms can take decades to develop.

OSHA and Occupational Lung Disease

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is primarily responsible for controlling asbestos exposure in the workplace. OSHA also enforces new and existing regulations. Because of the seriousness of occupational lung disease caused by asbestos, the OSHA regulations are extensive, but the following are some key points in the law:

  • There are strict limits to permissible exposure levels.
  • Workers must be informed of the presence of asbestos and measures to reduce exposure.
  • Areas where asbestos is known must be contained and marked; persons entering must wear appropriate respirators.
  • Employers must monitor asbestos exposure rates and share this data with employees.

These measures help reduce the risk to workers of developing mesothelioma. However, these regulations only apply when the presence of asbestos is known. Employers are typically not required to take these measures if they do not know asbestos is present.

Construction workers who work for small companies are also at risk. Under the law all companies must follow OSHA regulations, but in practice smaller employers are much less likely to follow them, citing the cost or saying “we don’t do those types of jobs”. No matter the size of the company, asbestos has been and continues to be used in so many products construction workers simply cannot know which materials contain asbestos and which do not.

All workers in the construction industry should be aware that they are at particular risk for asbestos exposure. If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis, let the mesothelioma law firm of Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason share their experience of more than thirty years representing asbestos victims. Call us today for a no cost legal consultation at 415-332-4262.