More than 1 million Americans are exposed to asbestos in their workplace on a daily basis, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Certain types of work, such as construction and ship repair, put employees in close contact with asbestos, which can have serious long-term effects on their health and livelihood. However, what many people don’t know is that they may have grounds for a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit if asbestos exposure has adverse health effects.
“Asbestos” is the term for a group of naturally occurring minerals that are heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant. Asbestos has been used in a number of products over the years, including:
- Insulation for pipes
- Floor tiles
- Building materials
- Vehicle brakes
- Vehicle clutches
Since asbestos is naturally occurring in the environment, people breathe in trace amounts of it every day. Many people breathe in asbestos particles without any adverse health effects, but even short-term exposure can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, and serious breathing problems. People who are most at risk are older Americans who might have spent many years working with asbestos before the health risks were fully realized and safety measures were put in place.
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Workers who are exposed to asbestos on a regular basis are often involved in stripping down old materials or demolition. Workers can also be exposed to asbestos during the manufacture of asbestos-related products, such as textiles, insulation, friction products, and car components. Certain lines of work are especially prone to asbestos exposure, such as construction, renovation, shipbuilding, paper mills, mining, heating and cooling equipment repair, automotive repair, roofing, and janitorial jobs.
The most common asbestos-related health problem is mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. There is no cure for mesothelioma at the moment, but typical cancer treatments like chemotherapy and surgery can work to lessen the effects of mesothelioma.
Long-term asbestos exposure can contribute to other serious health problems, including:
- Lung cancer
- Asbestosis, which is lung inflammation and buildup that causes coughing, difficulty breathing, and permanent lung damage
- Colorectal cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Thickening or calcification of the lining in the chest cavity
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration and other industry-specific safety regulators enforce employers’ obligation to create a safe and healthy workplace for employees. As such, there are certain federal guidelines employers must follow when their employees come into close contact with asbestos in the line of work. OSHA requires certain types of on-the-job protections, such as:
- Proper training for employees coming into contact with asbestos
- Properly ventilated workspaces
- Monitoring of employees for asbestos exposure levels
- Warning signs and instructions in areas of asbestos exposure
- Protective clothing, including gloves, face shields, goggles, coveralls, and foot coverings
- Certain protective equipment, such as a respirator
- Showers and post-exposure precautions
- Medical examinations for workers exposed to large amounts of asbestos
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If your job requires you to come into contact with high levels of asbestos without the proper safety precautions, you could have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim. Depending on the circumstances of your exposure, liability could rest with the company that manufactured the asbestos, the company that manufactured the protective equipment, the owner of the premises, or the contractors or sub-contractors involved in the work.