Asbestos Exposure Among Construction Workers

The construction industry is one of the most at-risk communities for occupational asbestos exposure. Because of the mineral’s extreme resistance to heat and degradation, asbestos was used globally and in abundance. Though asbestos was banned in the United States in 1979 and prohibited in many countries since, global consumption is still prevalent, particularly in Asia and Africa. Friction and construction materials, such as cement pipes, roof sheets, and brake shoes, often contain asbestos because of its reinforcing and insulating properties. A recent study by Safety and Health at Work took a deeper look into the asbestos fiber concentration air levels for mitering workers. They compared asbestos levels from four test areas where cutting of asbestos-containing cement roof sheets by a hand saw and high-speed motor were taking place. According to their air sampling and analysis, many workers are at risk of elevated exposures to asbestos.

Asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm remind those occupationally exposed that they are protected under federal law. If you developed any related illness as the result of employer negligence, contact an asbestos lawyer immediately for a free consultation.

The high-speed motor saw caused more than twice the amount of asbestos-concentration levels than that of the hand saw. Some believe that mitering of asbestos cement does not subject workers to health risks because the work is normally carried out in the open areas. This study examined four cases with each performed separately by a worker on different days in various ventilated, open-air locations. In Cases 1-3, the workers employed both types of equipment, while in Case 4, the worker used only a high-speed motor saw.

The fiber concentrations for all personal samples taken for 30 minutes from a high-speed motor saw exceeded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard. This limit has been adopted to help protect workers from exposing themselves, however briefly, from high doses of harmful fibers. At construction sites, roof-tile cuttings are usually carried out all day long and for big projects can continue for many days and even months.

The study shows that the number of sheets cut simultaneously has greater influence on the asbestos fiber-concentration levels than the speed of the saws. More sheets cut together at the same time cause invariably more concentrations. The workers’ behaviors and practices had an adverse effect on the exposure problem. Among the 4 cases, Case 2’s worker faced the greatest exposure risk from working rapidly and from positioning himself closer to the task. In Cases 3 and 4, each worker tried to minimize the impact by staying up-wind during the cuttings, which were performed at a normal speed. To avoid the dust, Case 4’s worker performed the cutting slowly. In all locations of the study, the environmental conditions and the surroundings’ ventilation were good.

We can conclude from the study that the environmental conditions, the number of sheets cut simultaneously, the workers’ behaviors and the choice of equipment have significant influences on the airborne asbestos concentration levels. Since the mitering duration at construction sites usually lasts much longer than those of the tests, and there is no threshold for asbestos as a cancer causing agent; mitering increases chances of lung cancer not only among construction workers, but also the public at large.

As long as people have easy access to asbestos and benefit from its low cost, it will continue to be used extensively. But, the question is: would it be beneficial to the public as a whole if the people’s health is put in jeopardy? There are many asbestos-free and other substitute products available, though at initially higher costs. The manufacturers should be made aware of their social responsibility and encouraged to replace asbestos with health-safe substitute materials. To ensure their well-being, consumers would certainly prefer safer products. In the long run, greater demand will encourage greater production, resulting in greater supply and eventually to lowering production costs. The government can be instrumental in facilitating the mass-market production of asbestos-substitute goods by adopting long awaited national policies and strategic plans.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, whether through occupation or asbestos-containing products, contact an asbestos lawyer today to discuss your legal rights and possible claim.

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