Asbestos exposure can injure a wide range of working professionals – and it’s more than just asbestos abatement specialists who must remain vigilant.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, more than 75 different groups or trades have actively exposed workers to unsafe levels of asbestos over the past century. While great pains have been taken to limit the dangers of asbestos exposure, there are still those today who are afflicted with mesothelioma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and other ailments as a direct result of asbestos exposure. There are several basic groups to consider when determining which professionals may be at a high risk for asbestos exposure. Those who actively mitigate old asbestos on a daily basis are susceptible to exposure, while those who simply work in buildings that are older than normal may find themselves at risk. Not surprisingly, older areas tend to find higher levels of asbestos exposure, as the majority of buildings may contain dangerous levels of uncontained asbestos. The chart below shows how malignant mesothelioma fatality levels (often an indicator of unsafe asbestos exposure) vary across the US:
The following trades today tend to present a higher than average risk of asbestos exposure than other lines of work:
Airplane mechanics – Though most modern airplanes use mainly asbestos-free components, modern brake pads may still contain asbestos fibers that can be quite harmful if ingested. Mechanics should wear respirators if replacing brake pads or working on brake-related components.
- Construction workers – While you might think that those in the construction field would have advanced training and an intimate working knowledge of asbestos-related safety practices and protocols, the majority simply do not. That, coupled with the fact that only a small percentage of construction workers actually want to become asbestos-removal techs or experts, and you have a recipe for disaster unless regimented training is introduced. Asbestos can be found in hundreds of products and locations that construction workers face on a daily basis – so these workers must be trained to identify and interact effectively with asbestos.
- Electricians – One group that is most often affected (usually unknowingly) today is electricians. These hard-working individuals work tirelessly to ensure that we have safe and compliant electrical services whenever we want. In order to maintain and repair existing electrical components, though, electricians often have to work among old, asbestos-laden parts and materials. The exposure is often severe, and the symptoms can take years to present.
- Firefighters – Though you may think that firefighters approach nearly any dangerous situation with the appropriate protective gear at all times, there are countless instances when our fire-battling heroes find themselves in situations where asbestos-packed buildings are literally falling down around them. Asbestos that is exposed to heat may rapidly release harmful fibers and firefighters don’t always wear respirators.
- HVAC repair technicians – While modern heating, ventilation, and air conditioning components are largely asbestos-free, most HVAC repair personnel must work within close proximity to old sources of asbestos. Disturbing existing insulation or HVAC components can release incredibly toxic levels of asbestos fibers – yet symptoms may take ten or more years to present themselves. The 270,000+ HVAC techs across the US must take special precautions when working in tight spaces and within old structures.
- Teachers – How can it be that teachers are at a great risk of asbestos exposure? The answer lies within the aging network of schools across the US. According to the US Department of Education, the average age of a public school in the United States is more than 42 years old. In the Northeast region of the US the average age is over 50 years. This corresponds to the increase in building during the end of the Baby Boomer Generation, and it also means that many schools were built when asbestos was prevalent. Teachers may be at risk when simply interacting with the normal facilities at the school.
There are some trades, like mining or asbestos removal, that can be quite hazardous when under-trained individuals are involved. While most asbestos mining has ceased around the world (China, Russia, and Brazil are still actively involved), taconite and vermiculite mining is still going strong, and these mines can easily see contamination by asbestos. In fact, the town of Libby, Montana is one of the most prevalent examples of this phenomenon – more than 1,000 individuals have gotten sick or passed away due to asbestos contamination, all from vermiculite mining activities. If you feel like you are at risk of asbestos-related injury, contact an asbestos specialist today to investigate your options.