For decades, workers employed by a variety of industries and construction trades were exposed to asbestos. When asbestos or asbestos containing materials were cut, mixed, or sprayed, these workers were placed in grave danger from asbestos fibers released into the air. They often worked without protection and proper ventilation unaware of the dangers around them.
International organizations – the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization – have declared that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop using asbestos. Some countries have banned asbestos, although the United States has not. Even if the carcinogen is banned, people will continue to get mesothelioma because of their past exposure on the job.
Job sites often linked to asbestos exposure:
- Construction sites
- Power plants
- Paper mills
- Manufacturing plants
Trades commonly linked to asbestos exposure:
- Shipyard workers; Navy personnel who served aboard ship
- Insulators (also known as asbestos workers)
- Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters
- Refinery and other industrial workers
- Maintenance workers and laborers
Auto Mechanics: At Risk
Many auto mechanics and public safety officials mistakenly believe that brakes no longer contain asbestos. Analysis has revealed that a significant amount of dust from asbestos can still be found at brake repair shops. Years or even decades after these mechanics stop working with brakes, they will still be in danger of developing mesothelioma.
In October 1991, a federal court withdrew a ban put into effect in July 1989 by the US Environmental Protection Agency to decrease the use of asbestos in the manufacturing of brakes. An article published in November 2000 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer confirmed “millions of brakes on cars and trucks – and millions more waiting on parts-shop shelves nationwide – contain asbestos fibers that can kill mechanics.” Currently, most auto-repair shops are not properly equipped to manage asbestos safely, even though the dangers are well-known.
Because many of the smaller shops run on tight schedules and are pushed to finish many cars per day, mechanics often ignore safety procedures. Industrial hygienists have developed techniques for reducing the risk of exposure, but these procedures are ineffective if they are not followed.
Common tasks during brake inspection and repair can create health problems for mechanics. Tasks like using compressed air to blow away dust from the brakes, hitting a brake drum, or wiping it with a dry brush, can release asbestos particles likely to be breathed in by employees. Some auto shops have taken these necessary precautions by purchasing respirators and vacuums for employees to use while working with brakes; however, some mechanics are not taking advantage of these safety measures because of the extra time and effort they require.
Buildings constructed before 1980 are more likely to contain asbestos found in the insulation, roofing or walls. While buildings built after 1980 are less expected to contain asbestos, there could still be danger lurking in the roof or floors. If the details of a building’s construction are unknown, it should always be assumed that the building does contain asbestos, and appropriate safety precautions should be taken. A building should be safe for all who enter, and the owner of the building has a legal duty to ensure that this is the case.
Employers are required to pay for special training for those working in areas containing asbestos. Safety precautions when working with asbestos include use of respirators and a vacuum system. Also, asbestos should be kept wet to prevent dust from forming.
By bringing work clothing home, workers are exposing their families to the tiny asbestos fibers clinging to the fabric. Clothes should remain at work site and either be cleaned there, or disposed of as hazardous waste.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to shower after work. There is to be no consumption of food or beverage and no smoking in the work area. Workers should wash their hands and faces after working with asbestos.
According to OSHA and EPA standards, asbestos should be kept wet during construction and deconstruction. Employees should make sure that their construction managers are following the rules and providing necessary safety equipment. OSHA conducts periodic inspections of workplaces, and also accepts worker reports of violations. The employee should take advantage of these precautions by also following the rules and by using respirators. Taking extra safety measures requires additional time and trouble, but it is imperative for saving lives.