Top 10 Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure in 2024

Danger: Asbestos Hazards sign on a work site

Asbestos is a known health hazard and is highly regulated by both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Damaged or worn-down asbestos-containing products may release fibers that can be inhaled or swallowed. Once asbestos particles enter the lungs or digestive system tissues, they can remain there forever.

Over time, asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, as well as other deadly diseases.

“Although the use of asbestos and asbestos products has dramatically decreased in recent years, they are still found in many residential and commercial settings and continue to pose a health risk to workers and others.”
– The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Through the early 1980s, U.S. workers in many occupations were exposed to high levels of asbestos. Since the material is still not entirely banned in America, many workers remain at risk today.

Quick Facts: Asbestos on the Job

  • According to OSHA, over 500,000 employees work with asbestos products
  • Millions of people were exposed in the past from working with or near asbestos products
  • Family members may get exposed to asbestos fibers by loved ones who unknowingly carry fibers home from work on their clothes or hair
  • Exposure to asbestos kills an estimated 40,000 Americans each year

Learn more about 10 occupations still at risk of asbestos exposure in 2024 below.

1. Military Service Members & Veterans

About 33% of mesothelioma patients are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces due to the high amount of asbestos used throughout the military, particularly in the U.S. Navy.

From the 1930s to the late 1970s, asbestos was used extensively in military vehicles, equipment and buildings in every branch of the military. Even today, asbestos can be found in older military installations and on naval ships across the country, putting current military service members at risk.

Not only were many military men and women exposed to asbestos during their service, veterans transitioning into civilian life would often go on to hold similar occupations in the private sector, which also further exposed them to the toxic material.

2. Firefighters

According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), nearly 75% of those added to the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in 2022 died from occupational cancer.

Fighting fires puts people at risk of exposure to hundreds of chemicals and carcinogens, including asbestos. Asbestos is still lurking in an estimated 25 million older homes built before the dangers of asbestos were known to the public.

Unfortunately, many firefighters may not know beforehand that the emergency they’re responding to could involve hazardous materials.

“Since asbestos is a substance that’s not an issue unless disturbed in some way, there’s no way for them to know before they arrive if it’s in a building’s tile glue, ceiling tiles, etc.”
– Spokesperson for Austin, Texas Fire Department

With no advanced warning, firefighters can’t take the required measures to protect themselves.

Because of this, firefighters are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma than the general public, with military firefighters, fire control men and aviation fire control technicians at an even greater risk.

3. Construction Workers

Asbestos has been used in building materials for decades. It was thought to be the perfect construction material because it made products lighter, stronger and fireproof.

As a result, many commercial, industrial and residential buildings constructed between 1920 and the 1980s still contain asbestos, putting the construction workers who work on older buildings at risk of exposure.

Construction materials that may contain asbestos include:

  • Asbestos cement sheets and pipes
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Friction materials
  • Insulation
  • Paints and sealants
  • Patching and taping compounds
  • Pipe insulation
  • Roofing materials
  • Transite wallboard and pipe
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Wall and ceiling plaster

There are many possible ways construction workers might be exposed to asbestos on the job, which makes proper ventilation and protective equipment especially important.

Repair, renovation and maintenance can disturb asbestos-containing products. Cutting holes or drilling into roofing, pipes and siding can cause asbestos fibers to be released into the air and inhaled by workers.

Worse, it’s not always possible to know when asbestos is present. Safety protocol is to assume any building material installed through the early 1980s contains asbestos, but the protocol is not always followed.

Sadly, workers are not always provided protective equipment or warned about the presence of asbestos and the health risks of exposure.

4. Auto Mechanics

Brake mechanics and auto mechanics do hands-on work with worn automobile parts, which can put them at risk of asbestos exposure. Work with clutch facings, brake shoes, linings and other friction materials that were often made with asbestos before the early 1980s can also put mechanics at risk.

“We knew asbestos was in things, but we didn’t know it was dangerous or that it could cause cancer or kill you,” said Dennis, who developed peritoneal mesothelioma after years of working as an auto mechanic.

Many auto technicians and mechanics have endured years of asbestos exposure at repair shops, garages, dealerships and service stations. To make matters worse, some garages may be confined spaces with minimal ventilation, allowing asbestos fibers to linger.

Some automobile parts manufacturers continue to defend asbestos as being safe if it is properly contained. This simply is not the case, as no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

5. Insulators

Insulators install, maintain and replace thermal insulation materials in residential, commercial and industrial work sites. Insulators working in buildings or around machinery manufactured before the 1980s may be at risk of asbestos exposure.

Insulators at risk of asbestos exposure include those who work at:

  • Apartment complexes
  • Chemical plants
  • Factories
  • Paper mills
  • Power stations
  • Refineries
  • Schools
  • Shipyards

Insulators often cut insulation with hand saws and knives, which can disturb asbestos and increase the risk of exposure. Defective respiratory equipment when working to seal and/or remove asbestos-based insulation may also increase this risk.

6. Plumbers

Plumbers who work in renovations of older homes or businesses are at an especially high risk for asbestos exposure. However, even plumbers performing routine work could be at risk if they are working with old asbestos-containing components like cement pipes.

Some plumbing materials that are known to contain asbestos include:

  • Hot water pipes
  • Joint compounds, adhesives and sealants
  • Lagging in wall cavities
  • Outdoor toilets and laundries
  • Stormwater and sewage piping
  • Swimming pools
  • Tank insulation
  • Tiles
  • Toilet seats and cisterns
  • Water tanks

Additionally, plumbers regularly work around other tradespeople like insulators, drywallers and carpenters who routinely use asbestos-containing materials, which puts them at risk of exposure.

7. Boilermakers

Boilermakers erect and repair boilers in office buildings, industrial plants, apartment complexes, schools, warehouses and other structures that still use steam as a heat or power source. Because of its fire-resistant qualities, asbestos was used as the main heat-insulation medium of industrial and residential boilers.

Though the government began to regulate the use of asbestos in the 1970s, thousands of boilers around the country — many built half a century ago — remain contaminated with asbestos.

The extensive use of asbestos, especially in older boiler systems, makes boilermakers a particularly high-risk job for asbestos exposure even in the 21st century.

8. Electricians

Asbestos was used in electrical equipment because of its fire and heat-resistant qualities. Like many other trade workers, electricians may be at an increased risk of coming into contact with asbestos at some point during their careers.

In many cases, electricians encounter asbestos-containing products like insulation or piping when crawling through attics or basements on the job.

Some of the asbestos-containing products encountered by electricians include:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Cement siding
  • Circuit breakers
  • Decorative plaster
  • Drywall
  • Electrical ducts
  • Electric wiring insulation
  • Joint compound
  • Spackling material
  • Switchgear
  • Textured paints

Working around older electrical equipment could damage asbestos and cause accidental exposure to fibers. Electrical contractors may also be at risk while performing low-hazard work on asbestos that gets disturbed.

9. Teachers

While it may come as a surprise to many, teachers are at risk of asbestos exposure. According to the EPA, about 20% of public buildings in the United States contain asbestos. This amounts to over 730,000 structures, which includes many public schools.

By EPA estimates, about 138,000 schools in the United States contain asbestos-containing materials. Within schools, asbestos is often found in plaster, insulation on boilers and pipes, and floor and ceiling tiles.

With the amount of time teachers spend within school walls, they could unknowingly be at risk of asbestos exposure.

10. Family Members of Workers

Some people may not realize they don’t have to work with asbestos-containing products to be exposed to the toxic material. They could be at risk of asbestos exposure simply by living with someone who works with or near contaminated products.

Asbestos fibers can travel home on a worker’s hair or clothing, which can put their family members or roommates at an increased risk of exposure as well. This is known as secondhand or take-home exposure.

To limit the risk of take-home exposure, federal law requires some workers to follow safety precautions, like:

  • Wearing protective gear
  • Leaving contaminated gear, clothes and tools at work
  • Showering before leaving work if possible
  • Washing dirty uniforms separate from everyday clothes

Get Experienced Mesothelioma Legal Help Today

While these occupations are known to put workers at risk of asbestos exposure, they are not the only ones. Workers from various industries and trades were exposed to asbestos — and the health risks were hidden from them until it was too late.

Because mesothelioma can take 10-50 years to develop after asbestos exposure, workers and their family members who were exposed decades ago may still be at risk today. Some retirees and veterans may be caught off guard by their diagnosis, thinking their occupational risks are long behind them.

For over 20 years, Simmons Hanly Conroy has seen firsthand the devastation this cancer has caused workers in various industries and trades. Our mesothelioma lawyers are dedicated to fighting for justice on behalf of victims and their families across the country.

We’ve secured over $9.3 billion in mesothelioma settlements and verdicts to help our clients pay for medical expenses, lost wages and more.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, call (800) 326-8900 or get a free legal consultation now to see if we can help.

Simmons Support Team
Simmons Hanly ConroyWritten by:

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