Medical and Legal Considerations of Asbestos in the Workplace

Medical and Legal Considerations of Asbestos in the Workplace

Everyday you breath in trace amounts of a substance called asbestos, a silicate mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. While these trace amounts remain relatively harmless, extended exposure at significant levels can cause irreparable harm to health. Asbestos, a durable, heat and flame resistant fiber used in automotive, building, consumer, industrial, maritime and scientific products causes numerous diseases – two incurable – in extended exposure or short-term exposure at significant levels. If undisturbed, asbestos does not usually cause a problem. Its uses in industry, however, cause its fibers to loosen, become airborne. These breathable fibers can enter the lungs of those in the vicinity.

Who Uses Asbestos?

Many industries use this versatile fiber. Some jobs increase exposure to the substance. Those most significant exposures have occurred in the following fields:

  • commercial and residential construction,
  • commercial and residential demolition,
  • commercial and residential renovation,
  • HVAC repair,
  • janitorial jobs in structures containing deteriorating asbestos,
  • manufacturing of asbestos containing products,
  • mining,
  • paper mills,
  • roofing,
  • shipbuilding,
  • vehicle repair.

Despite the health risks involved in its use, its performance as a cheap, durable material has kept it a popular ingredient in many products worldwide.

Health Risks Associated With Asbestos

Exposure to significant amounts of asbestos can cause serious health issues. Asbestos exposure has been scientifically and medically linked to the development of the following diseases:

  • asbestosis, a lung inflammation causing permanent lung damage, breathing difficulties and persistent coughing,
  • calcification and thickening in the chest cavity lining,
  • colorectal cancer,
  • gastrointestinal cancer,
  • lung cancer,
  • mesothelioma, a cancer affecting the chest and abdomen lining.

Although numbers aren’t available for every country, each year between 12,000 and 15,000 people die in the United States from asbestos-related diseases and about 4,000 people die annually in the United Kingdom. There remains no known cure for asbestosis or mesothelioma. Health problems from exposure can take years to develop.

Health and Safety Regulations

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), each day about 1.3 million people in the United States work in an area of significant asbestos exposure. OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency created legal safety requirements for employers to keep workers in asbestos using industries safer. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts scientific research to determine safe exposure levels and recommends actions to prevent work-related injury and illness. OSHA creates and promulgates workplace safety regulations. Employers are legally required to take the following actions to reduce asbestos dangers:

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  • train employees who work with or around asbestos,
  • properly ventilate all workspaces,
  • monitor asbestos exposure levels,
  • monitor daily asbestos exposure levels during removal of asbestos-containing materials,
  • clearly post warning signs and instructions in areas of asbestos-related work,
  • provide protective clothing including coveralls, face shields, foot covers, gloves and goggles,
  • provide protective equipment such as respirators,
  • provide post-exposure precautions such as showers,
  • provide medical examinations for categories of workers exposed to significant asbestos levels,

If you or a family member worked in an asbestos-related occupation and developed a related health disorder, contact an accident attorney or injury attorney who specializes in work accidents, worker’s compensation, and wrongful death. The attorney may recommend filing a lawsuit against one or more of the following parties:

  • the asbestos manufacturer,
  • the manufacturer of protective equipment that failed,
  • owners of the structure where the work took place,
  • involved contractors and sub-contractors.

If the employer failed to properly protect employees from asbestos exposure, the legally appropriate remedy is via worker’s compensation. An accident attorney or injury attorney can help you navigate the worker’s compensation process, including application to any existing applicable asbestos victim compensation fund.