Construction is a booming sector. In 2016, there were over 10 million construction workers employed in the United States. And in 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employers sought construction workers to fill approximately 225,000 jobs each month in the first quarter of the year alone.
Hazards of Construction Work
Unfortunately, construction also consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most dangerous professions. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recognizes the most prominent dangers construction workers face as the “Fatal Four” — falling, being struck by an object, being electrocuted, and being caught in or compressed by equipment. 21.1 percent of all occupational fatalities in 2016 were among those working in the construction industry. According to the BLS, the “Fatal Four” accounted for more than half of those deaths.
While less recognized, exposure to toxic substances is another serious danger facing construction workers. Toxic substances lurk all around construction sites — mists, dusts, vapors, and fumes all present a real health risk. In 2014, the BLS released that 2,000 construction workers reportedly suffered from work-related illnesses that affected their lungs or skin, 100 of whom were poisoned in some way. The BLS also estimates that nearly 69 percent of work-related injuries and illnesses go unreported, meaning the number of people affected by exposure to dangerous toxins is likely double this number.
OSHA has established regulations, such as the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL), to protect workers and limit unnecessary exposure to toxic substances. Asbestos is among one of the hazardous toxins facing construction workers. Though asbestos has been recognized as a cancer-causing substance and is no longer used in new construction, it is still a threat to workers in this industry. Employees in this field should be aware of the dangers of asbestos and what to do if they think they may have been exposed, as well as the safety procedures outlined to keep them safe.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of minerals, traditionally known for their fire- and sound-resistant properties. Historically, asbestos has been used in residential and commercial applications like insulation and paint, as well as roofing and flooring materials.
When asbestos fibers become airborne, they can enter the body and become lodged in the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities. Over time, irritation from these fibers can cause scar tissue to form. This may eventually can result in mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that develops on the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that lines the organs of the chest and abdomen.
The history of asbestos
Before 1970, asbestos was used in a wide variety of building materials, including but not limited to:
- Floor tiles
It wasn’t until 1973 that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in and began regulating asbestos usage. The most comprehensive ban came in 1989, when the EPA issued the Toxic Substances Control Act. This ban, though only applicable to new uses of asbestos, kicked off a major asbestos phase-out initiative in construction materials. However, asbestos usage has been — and continues to be — an ongoing issue for the EPA.
Construction Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
While its usage has dwindled, asbestos still poses a threat to today’s construction workers. Demolition and renovation crews working with older structures, especially those built before 1970, face a higher risk of being exposed to asbestos while on the job. Not only do these sites contain asbestos, but they become more dangerous over time, as aging asbestos products become brittle, increasing the likelihood of crumbling and becoming airborne.
Most crews working around asbestos are trained on its safe-handling. However, one mistake can send the toxic material into the atmosphere, putting the entire construction site at risk. Trades at an elevated risk for asbestos exposure include:
- Brick layers
- Bulldozer operators
- Crane operators
- Demolition crews
- Insulation workers
- Railroad workers
- Renovation workers
- Tile setters
Airborne asbestos can travel for miles. Construction workers who have been exposed may bring asbestos home with them on their clothing, skin, or hair, putting their loved ones at risk. It’s crucial that you take all necessary safety precautions to avoid second-hand asbestos exposure.
Safety precautions for handling asbestos
Construction workers can protect themselves and their families by taking the appropriate precautions. Below are a few of OSHA’s safety standards for employees working around asbestos:
- Know if the job site you’ve been assigned to contains asbestos. Proper hazard communication and signage are required.
- Training must be provided to employees on how to identify and handle materials containing asbestos.
- Separate decontamination and lunch areas to minimize unnecessary exposure.
- Use the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter masks, and vacuum to avoid inhalation of asbestos debris.
- Apply the wet method when dealing with asbestos at a job site. By wetting the material first, you minimize the amount of dangerous dust that is sent into the air.
Taking Legal Action
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease as a result of occupational exposure, you may be entitled to financial compensation. You may be eligible to receive compensation from workers’ compensation or from asbestos trusts. A specialized asbestos attorney will be your best resource if you decide to pursue legal action.
When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, a toxic plume of smoke and ash was sent into the air, spanning for miles. Millions of New Yorkers were exposed to dangerous toxins and years later are still at risk of developing lethal health conditions.
In an exclusive interview with Mesothelioma Hub and Dr. Raja Flores, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Dr. Flores stated, “…2,000 tons of asbestos came down with the towers… and you have to realize to develop cancer it takes time, usually 20–30 years specifically for mesothelioma. The patients we follow here at Mt. Sinai have all the prodromal syndromes of patients who have worked with asbestos. We have already seen cancers develop in the 9/11 cohort.”
He goes on to question if the cancers he is treating are a result of the attacks or if the patients would’ve still developed those cancers without having been exposed during 9/11. However, his research has identified a link between asbestos and patients from Libby, Montana — the same asbestos that was used in much of the World Trade Center construction.
In 2017, Raymond J. Pfeifer, an NYC firefighter who assisted in the 8-month-long 9/11 cleanup, passed away from cancer as a direct result of the 9/11 exposure. He developed what became known as the “9/11 cough.” The Ray Pfeifer Foundation has since been established to assist 9/11 firefighters, first responders, and police officers with their medical needs.
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Contact a member of our patient support team to learn about the resources available to help you or your loved ones.