Most people wouldn’t consider heavy equipment workers like bulldozer operators to be at high risk for asbestos exposure. They’d think the same applies to excavator and crane operators as well. But that’s not the case. Any worker who operates demolition equipment around asbestos-laden buildings or asbestos-contaminated job sites is a prime candidate for breathing in tiny airborne asbestos particles.
Bulldozer Operator Careers and Job Duties
Heavy equipment operators are highly skilled workers who gain expertise from years in machinery seats and handling controls. Many are well-paid professionals having a risky job operating powerful machines weighing thousands of pounds. They face a multitude of tasks.
Often, they’re required to pull down and clean up old buildings. The vast majority of older buildings contained asbestos-based materials.
Metal track bulldozers are just one type of demolition equipment. They’re usually used for remedial work on flat ground where other specialized machines have already torn down a building.
Other demolition equipment that machine operators handle includes:
- Large cranes with wrecking balls and claw attachments
- Track mounted excavators with boom and bucket extensions
- Wheel mounted excavators ranging from small to large sizes
- Mini excavators that fit in compact spaces
- Bobcat and Skidsteer loaders
- Frontend and backhoe rubber tired loaders
Demolition work happens routinely. During a heavy equipment operating career, a machine technician faces many different jobs. Some are simple with quick and easy access. Others are complex and contain dangerous materials like asbestos.
These are examples of demolition jobs a bulldozer operator gets tasked with:
- Industrial Teardowns: Almost all chemical factories and manufacturing plants used asbestos-based products. That was mostly in heat-resistant and fireproofing applications.
- Commercial Building Demolitions: These could be anything from old fuel stations to department stores. Asbestos was regularly used in floors, walls, ceilings and roofs.
- Residential Wrecking: Old houses are regularly taken down, making way for new structures. Homes built before the 1980s contained many asbestos materials like roofing, masonry and cabinet liners.
Asbestos Exposure in Bulldozer Operators
Most heavy equipment operators work outdoors and inside their machines. Some heavy machines have isolated cabs with filtered air condition systems. But most don’t. The operator has open windows or sides and is fully exposed to the air. That can be a disaster when dormant asbestos is disturbed during demolition.
There’s nothing dainty about demolition work. Building teardown is violent work where all types of materials are crushed and ground so they can be taken away.
When asbestos-based building products are ripped apart, clouds of microscopic asbestos particles fill the air and surround the bulldozer operator with a swirl of asbestos dust.
Asbestos easily turns to powder when it’s old and dry. This tiny dust form is called friable. It’s easily ingested into an equipment operator’s lungs and digestive tract. Asbestos particles also settle on the operator’s clothes They’re transported back home where family members suffer secondary exposure.
Bulldozer operators aren’t only exposed to asbestos during primary demolition work. Many old sites are still highly contaminated with asbestos even when the majority of the demolished material is gone.
Those asbestos clouds raised during a knockdown find their way to the ground. A new machine operator who had nothing to do with primary demolition may show up to excavate for a new project. They’ll disturb the settled asbestos fines and create an equally hazardous condition without realizing it.
Asbestos Used in Bulldozers
Another serious asbestos exposure risk to bulldozer operators is the machine they’re running. Many heavy equipment pieces contained asbestos in their gaskets, clutches, and brakes. Anywhere there were friction, heat or fire risks, manufacturers insulated them with asbestos products. Particles were continually loosened and contaminated the operators.
Caterpillar, specifically, used nearly 200 components containing asbestos and that practice continued until a mesothelioma lawsuit stopped Cat in 2000.
Asbestos Health Risks for Bulldozer Operators
Most demolition sites contain two types of asbestos:
- Chrysotile: Or “white asbestos” which has a relatively low risk for developing serious health problems.
- Amphibole: Far more dangerous and deadly.
Contact with amphibole asbestos causes microscopic fibers to enter an operator’s lungs and embed in the lung lining or pleura. The fibers can’t be expelled and lay dormant for 10-50 years before activating as a deadly cancerous disease called mesothelioma. Other asbestos exposure health risks include tumors in the stomach, heart and occasionally the testicles.
Compensation for Bulldozer Operators Exposed to Asbestos
If you’re a heavy equipment operator exposed to asbestos and now suffering health problems, you may be eligible for compensation. You could earn monetary awards for job loss, medical expenses or personal injury. Family members can also file lawsuits against negligent asbestos manufacturers, including punitive damages and wrongful death claims.
To find out where you stand on a mesothelioma claim, contact our Justice Support Team today.