Construction Workers and Asbestos Exposure

closeup of two construction workers handing blocks of cement or roofing to each other, asbestos exposure concept for construction workers

Asbestos has been used in many different types of building supplies and has had varying construction applications, particularly before the 1980s. Asbestos, now a known human carcinogen, was a common and choice mineral to be used in materials that needed to be insulated and also fire resistant. Because asbestos had all the desirable properties, it was used en masse for decades, until the dangers of asbestos to the human body became widely known.

According to OSHA, construction workers have one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Whether or not construction workers worked directly with asbestos, they were likely exposed and are at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos in Construction

Asbestos was a staple product used in countless building materials from the 1920s through the 1980s. Every home, office building, commercial building, factory, shipyard, rail yard, and plant built between 1920 and 1980 contained asbestos. During the late 20th century, its use was phased out, but it still remains in many of these buildings. Asbestos abatement is common in old buildings now, and it is a very dangerous job. But those removing the asbestos aren't the only ones in harm's way. Any disturbance of asbestos can cause the fibers to go airborne, be breathed in, and cause asbestos-related diseases.

If you are a construction worker currently working on old buildings, or you were a construction worker during 1920-1980, you are considered to be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

How Workers May Have Been Exposed to Asbestos

Even if you didn't work directly with asbestos, you are at risk. Construction sites and related work environments have the potential for high concentrations of airborne asbestos, whether known or unknown. Anyone working on a site where there is asbestos is exposed to these harmful fibers.

It is especially severe on current renovation and demolition projects where asbestos is present, as these old fibers are particularly potent. All it takes is for one construction worker to cut, drill, sand, or touch an asbestos product, and everyone on the job site is at risk of exposure to asbestos.

Secondhand asbestos exposure is also prevalent in construction. If asbestos fibers cling to your clothes, shoes, hat, hair, or skin, you risk exposing those around you to the dangers of asbestos as well. Family members, friends, and coworkers that you come into contact with can develop asbestos-related diseases as well.

Construction Materials & Products Containing Asbestos

Asbestos was considered to be the perfect mineral to use in construction materials, as it was lightweight, strong, fireproof, and thermally stable. It was also easy to work with, inexpensive, and easy to acquire.

Several products that were known to contain asbestos included:

  • Cabinet materials
  • Masonry products and cement powder
  • Door facings and cores
  • Drywall, joint tape, and finishing compound
  • Floor tiles and underlayment
  • Exterior siding
  • Insulation
  • Glues, sealants, and paints
  • Roofing products
  • Pipe and furnace boiler wrappings
  • Welding gear and the protective gear that workers wore

Construction Jobs Exposed to Asbestos

Because society always has a demand for construction services, construction work is always happening! From residential to commercial, industrial to civil and heavy construction, workers are always constructing, renovating, and demolishing. Many products that once contained asbestos are now being replaced with manufactured with natural and synthetic fibers.

The workers who were directly exposed or had secondary exposure to asbestos during the 20th century include:

  • Tradespeople
  • Insulators
  • Roofers
  • Drywall installers
  • Flooring specialists
  • Painters
  • Engineers
  • Plumbers
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Masons
  • Architects
  • Site managers
  • Project managers
  • Crane operators
  • Bulldozer operators
  • Bricklayers
  • Pipefitters
  • Home renovators
  • Demolition crews
  • and more

No matter the role held, it can be assumed that anyone in construction in the 20th century was exposed to asbestos. There are no safe levels of asbestos exposure, but some elevated levels do increase the risk of an asbestos-related disease called mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that forms on the protective lining covering the lungs, abdomen, testicles, or heart. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. This fatal disease can lay dormant for years or decades before developing, which is why we have seen many cases come forward in the past few decades. We have legally represented many workers who were exposed to asbestos and never warned of its dangers.

How We Can Help

If you are a construction worker who developed an asbestos-related disease, lung cancer, or mesothelioma, and you weren't notified of the dangers you were putting yourself in, you may be able to receive compensation for your medical bills. The amount of negligence we have seen in Illinois on construction sites is appalling, and we want to hold accountable those who put you in harm's way.

While the fines that OSHA cites for construction companies are a start, they aren't enough to really make the construction companies feel responsible and make changes. For example, in a 2016 case in Texas, five companies were cited for failing to inform their construction workers of the presence of asbestos and its dangers. Those companies were ordered to pay a small fine of $185,150 in total for all five companies. They likely barely blinked at that number.

We want to ensure that companies like these are held accountable to the extent that they feel it and make changes to ensure it doesn't continue to happen in the future.

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