Most types of construction workers are at risk of coming into contact with asbestos, especially during demolition or remodeling of older buildings and structures. Those workers considered most at risk for being exposed to the dangerous material include electricians, insulators, plumbers, pipefitters, drywall installers, and sheet metal workers. However, the list is not limited to these types of workers. Even those involved in roofing and flooring may be exposed to asbestos as well.
The American Cancer Society explains that most mesothelioma cases have been linked to workplace asbestos exposure. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued three standards to protect workers after the recognition of asbestos as a carcinogenic threat, it remains a danger to those who experienced exposure in the past without this protection, as well as those who continue to work and live in these toxic environments. These standards include:
29 CFR 1926.1101: this standard covers construction work, which might include the alteration, repair, renovation, and demolition of asbestos-containing structures.
29 CFR 1915.1001: this standard covers asbestos exposure that takes place in shipyards.
29 CFR 1910.1001: this standard covers general industry asbestos exposure, including exposure taking place during brake and clutch repair, the manufacturing of asbestos-containing products and custodial work.
Below are several professions that include the highest risks of asbestos exposure, even today. Although using asbestos containing materials is now greatly limited in the U.S., these professions pose a continued threat to employees because of the material’s presence in older construction:
Electricians risk exposure to asbestos from both electrical and building insulation. As an effective insulator against both heat and electricity, asbestos fibers were often used as insulation for regulating temperatures, as well as a wire wrap. These professionals may also come into contact with pipes that contain asbestos, as the material frequently was frequently a lining here as well. Asbestos exposure is especially common in older buildings, and many electricians risk exposure with the substance when remodeling or performing maintenance work on such buildings.
Because insulators typically work indoors, they risk heavy exposure to asbestos particles in enclosed areas. An insulator’s job is often very dusty and dirty, and it is not uncommon for particles to enter their respiratory system. These fibers can also attach to their clothing, posing a later threat to other individuals if they are released into the home or similar location.
The job of insulators can be complex, as they often work to reduce energy costs through building insulation improvement. This may involve taping, wiring, cementing, or even spraying insulation, which often contains asbestos. Insulators also work to prevent the transfer of heat within a building, which requires the installation of materials into areas of a building constructed with asbestos materials. Furthermore, insulators often use compressors to blow insulation into attics and walls of certain buildings, which can easily kick up old asbestos particles as well.
Many insulators are also responsible for removing asbestos during remodeling and demolition projects. This has proven to be a risky task, though many precautions have been put into place in order to protect workers. In addition to wearing protective gear and ventilating the area, there are specific techniques and procedures which an insulator must use in order to safely remove asbestos.
Plumbers and Pipefitters
Plumbers work to install and repair the plumbing systems of homes and buildings. This includes working with the water and drainage systems, as well as waste disposal and gas systems. Pipefitters deal with the pipes in a building or home that work to heat and cool buildings, in addition to generating electricity. Often both plumbers and pipefitters come into contact with insulation surrounding the plumbing systems and pipes. Sometimes these workers are even responsible for removing the asbestos from those areas.
Many older dry wall products, including joint compound, dry wall tape, and plaster, contained asbestos. Even some types of older ceilings contain this mineral. Drywall installers often come into contact with these older products that contain asbestos through sanding, scraping or drilling, which leads to dangerous exposure to the material that might result in one of several types of cancer, including mesothelioma.
Sheet Metal Workers
Sheet metal workers work in various areas that can expose them to asbestos. Not only do they work with ducts for heating and cooling systems that can contain asbestos, but they are also involved in the roofing process, which can expose them to asbestos through older asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding as well.