In fact, before 1980, there were few regulations or restrictions in place to protect construction workers from daily exposure to the hundreds of potentially deadly asbestos-containing products that could commonly be found on construction sites.
So whether you used to work or are still working in the construction business, you may be at risk for asbestos exposure that can lead to an aggressive form of cancer called mesothelioma.
How Are Construction Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
Because asbestos is an incredibly resilient, strong, and heat-resistant mineral, dozens of companies chose to use it as an ingredient in the manufacturing of many types of construction products produced before 1980. The problem is, when asbestos-containing products are damaged, or simply wear down due to age, they can release tiny, dangerous fibers into the air. These fibers can be inhaled or carried home on a worker’s skin or clothing in the form of dust. Wherever exposure takes place, asbestos fibers can get stuck inside a person’s body and eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma.
For years, manufacturers used asbestos to make products like roofing shingles, floor and ceiling tiles, and insulation, just to name a few. Any time a product that contains asbestos gets disturbed—through construction-related tasks such as sanding, sawing, demolition, or renovation—asbestos fibers can potentially be released into the air. Once these fibers become airborne, they can be inhaled or swallowed. This is when the trouble begins. These tiny asbestos fibers can get stuck in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and over time lead to the development of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Can Take Decades to Develop
It only takes one inhaled asbestos fiber to cause mesothelioma, and with so many potential sources of repeated workplace exposure, it’s understandable why construction workers are such a high-risk group.
Mesothelioma often takes a long time to develop—as much as 20-50 years. That means construction workers who were exposed decades ago may just now be receiving a diagnosis. Today, there is still potential for on-the-job asbestos exposure, but the threat is much lower due to public awareness and much-needed safety regulations.
How Construction Workers Can Be Safer Today
Every employee is entitled to be safe at work. Fortunately, both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have regulations and standards in place detailing how employers must protect the health and ensure the safety of construction workers on the job.
Any worker concerned about safety on the job should first speak to his or her employer and point out the areas of concern. If necessary, OSHA can make an on-site inspection, or provide information that explains worker safety standards and employers’ responsibilities. Important, state-specific information can be found on the OSHA website.