Occupations at Risk For Asbestos Exposure
Dozens upon dozens of occupations pose asbestos exposure risks. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration outlines regulations for four types of workers: construction, shipyard, brake and clutch, and general workplace, which includes all other types of exposed workers. Workers may be exposed to asbestos still in use today as well as asbestos used in products of the past, such as when renovating an old home. Contrary to popular belief, asbestos is not banned in the United States due to the efforts of the companies that profit from its use.
While many occupations risk asbestos exposure, some are riskier than others. Due to the extensive use of asbestos in household materials from wall plaster to ceiling tiles, to boilers and insulation — just to name a few — construction workers and electricians are by far the occupations most exposed to asbestos.
- Construction Workers: The construction industry is inherently dangerous due to falls, electrocution and crushing injuries. However, asbestos is a largely invisible threat. Drywall workers, masons, roofers and painters are the most exposed types of construction workers. Drywall workers cut asbestos-laden panels, masons once cut brick that was mixed with raw asbestos, roofers used asbestos grout, and painters sprayed speckling containing asbestos compounds. Furthermore, these are just a few of the ways these workers used asbestos.
- Electricians: These workers are exposed twice to asbestos. Electrical products which they repair often contain asbestos and they are also at risk for airborne asbestos fibers, for example as a result of drilling through drywall.
Construction Materials Containing Asbestos
Construction materials are strengthened and made fire-resistant with the addition of asbestos. Insulation, roofing materials, flooring materials, drywall products like plaster and gypsum board, as well as vermiculite products, joint packing, duct tape, textured paints, insulating cements and siding panels are just a few examples of asbestos-contaminated construction materials.
Electrical Materials Containing Asbestos
Electricians come into direct contact with potentially asbestos-contaminated construction materials throughout the course of working on components which may also contain asbestos. Some of these components include generators, hot water tanks, turbines and heating units. Other materials include plastic molding compounds and insulation used inside breaker boxes and around wiring.
Asbestos continues to affect workers from many types of occupations, proof of how dependent industries have become on this once-dubbed “magic mineral”. Despite knowledge that it was harmful to workers from nearly the time of its widespread use in the late 1800s, it remains highly used. In fact, in 1991 the EPA ruling banning asbestos was overturned in the United States. As a result, asbestos is still used in everything from roof coatings to disc brake pads to millboard to clothing and gaskets, amongst numerous other products. The United States Geological Survey reports the importation between 1991 and 2001 of 250,000+ tons of asbestos.