High-Risk Occupations for Asbestos Exposure
Some workers physically handled asbestos on a regular basis through the equipment they operated, the products they used, or the personal protective equipment they wore.
Below, get a breakdown of jobs with a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), construction workers often faced high levels of occupational asbestos exposure.
Countless building materials were made with asbestos before the health risks of the mineral were widely known.
These roles put construction workers at risk of exposure:
- Drywall installation
- Setting tile
At particular risk of occupational asbestos exposure were workers who needed to remove, repair, or demolish asbestos materials (such as damaged insulation or pipes).
These actions could release asbestos particles into the air, making it easier for construction workers to inhale them and get sick later on.
Buildings were made with asbestos-containing products up to the early 1980s. If these buildings caught on fire, asbestos particles were released into the air, meaning firefighters could breathe them in.
Firefighters’ uniforms and gloves also contained asbestos since the material resisted heat and fire.
Did You Know?
According to researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters had double the rates of mesothelioma when compared to the general population.
Firefighters today are still at risk if older homes and structures built with asbestos catch fire. The Cleveland Clinic notes that any building made before the 1980s may still have asbestos-containing materials inside them.
Industrial work included many different jobs, such as machine operators, assembly line workers, plumbers, mechanics, and welders. Each of these jobs may have put workers in contact with asbestos on a daily basis.
Some of these jobs may even expose workers today. For example, older machines, vehicles, and pipe systems can still contain asbestos — and if workers don’t take the proper precautions, they may be exposed.
When asbestos was thought to be safe by the general public, it was frequently used as insulation.
If insulators regularly needed to install or remove asbestos-based insulation, they disturbed the microscopic asbestos fibers found in the insulation.
Inhaling these fibers put workers at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases later on.
It also was common practice to wrap pipes in asbestos for insulation.
For this reason, pipelayers, pipefitters, plumbers, and steamfitters responsible for removing or installing asbestos-based insulation could be at a high risk of mesothelioma or other diseases today.
Navy Shipyard Workers
Like construction workers, shipyard workers were at a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure because they had to remove, install, or repair asbestos-containing products on a daily basis.
Navy shipyards were particularly dangerous, as this branch of the U.S. Armed Forces used more asbestos-containing products than any other branch.
“All the [Navy] ships were full of asbestos because it is a great fire retardant,” oncologist Dr. Christian Thomas said in a 2019 interview. “There’s a huge concern about fires on ships, so they threw asbestos on everything.”
Navy shipyard workers were even at risk when they were off-duty as well. The Navy used asbestos-containing products in almost all of its buildings, meaning mess halls and sleeping quarters could have exposed them as well.
Other Jobs With High Risk of Asbestos Exposure
The jobs listed above are not the only ones that put workers at risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Workers may have come in contact with asbestos in dozens of different occupations.
Other high-risk occupations include:
Workers can still be exposed today if older asbestos-based products are found on their job and the risks are not assessed.