Crane operators and hoist men operate large equipment that must lift heavy objects far above the ground. A failure of the brakes on one of these pieces of equipment could be catastrophic. As a result, they have historically had state-of-the-art brake pads. In the past, this meant brake pads made from cloth with asbestos fibers woven in to make it impervious to heat, friction, and fire. When these brake pads undergo friction, some of the asbestos can flake off and become airborne where people can inhale the fibers, leading to any number of asbestos related diseases and cancers such as asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Crane operators and hoist men also typically work in areas that are known to contain large amounts of asbestos. Commercial buildings used to frequently have sprayed asbestos insulation. When the asbestos was being sprayed, large amounts got into the ambient air. Other asbestos-containing products also were used in construction and the people dealing with them were exposed to at least some asbestos. Another high danger area where crane operators and hoist men frequently came into contact with asbestos is at shipyards. Shipbuilding was one of the largest uses for asbestos through World War II and beyond. Any crane operator or hoist man who worked in the shipyards had the potential for high-level exposure. Even retrofitting old ships today leads to potential exposure from old, previously contained asbestos that is exposed during the modernization process. Since asbestos doesn’t break down chemically, it is as dangerous today as it was when it was first put in place many years ago.
Asbestos dust is so fine it isn’t readily visible to the naked eye. A person in a contaminated environment can bring home asbestos dust on his hair, clothing, or shoes, without even being aware of its presence. In this way, family members can be exposed to asbestos even if they never visit the job site.
Asbestos has been used for centuries. It is a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral that has extreme insulating and fire resistant properties. As a result it was considered to be one of the most useful products available in construction and in any application where heat and or fire could cause a problem. Unfortunately asbestos’ negative characteristics outweigh its positive characteristics. When asbestos is disturbed it breaks off into small fibers and dust-like particles that are so small and light they can float on the air. When the fibers are inhaled, they get imbedded in the tissue that lines the chest and protects the lungs. Initially the asbestos causes irritation that with time turns into scar tissue. Asbestos is also a carcinogen that causes a malignant form of asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma.
Malignant mesothelioma takes many years to develop after the person is first exposed to asbestos. Frequently even mild symptoms don’t show up for 30 years or more. When the symptoms start they are very mild and are typically ignored or written off as being caused by something else. For most people, the first symptom is a slight shortness of breath when the person is exercising. Over time, the shortness of breath gets worse, and ultimately breathing becomes both difficult and painful. If caught in the early stages, doctors can surgically remove mesothelioma tumors and the surrounding tissue to prevent it from spreading through the body. For a case when the disease has already metastasized by the time it is detected, surgery may slow its spread, but will not remove the cancer entirely. In these cases doctors may use chemotherapy and radiation in addition to the surgery to prolong life as long possible. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and it does not respond well to most cancer-fighting drugs. As a result, the life expectancy for a person diagnosed with mesothelioma is less than two years.