The construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. In 2013, one in five worker deaths were in construction on the job site, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
While many of the hazards associated with construction are self-evident, the risk of being exposed to asbestos is not always as obvious for workers, but can be just as deadly.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was used in building materials and found at construction job sites from the 1920s and into the 1980s. As early as the 1930s, its use was linked to serious lung diseases like mesothelioma, an aggressive lung cancer that is often fatal.
Construction workers who built structures decades ago when asbestos use was at its height have an increased risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. During those years, few precautions were taken to protect workers from asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, so workers who were exposed to asbestos 20, 30, or even 40 years ago are only just now beginning to experience mesothelioma symptoms.
Specific types of construction workers and other workers who have an increased risk of experiencing occupational exposure to asbestos include:
- Renovators of old buildings
- Installers of flooring or roofs
- Drywaller hangers and plasterers
- Plumbers and pipefitters
- Brick layers
Many of these construction workers shared common areas at job sites. Asbestos dust could spread easily from worker to worker, so even workers who did not directly handle asbestos could have been exposed. Construction workers could have also brought asbestos dust home on their clothes, in their hair or on their tools, placing their families at risk of secondary asbestos exposure.
While asbestos use is still legal in the United States, OSHA has established regulations dealing with asbestos exposure on the job that employers are required to follow to increase worker safety.
Even with these regulations in place, construction workers who were exposed decades ago are still at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.