Crane Operators

Many 20th-century crane operators were at high risk of asbestos exposure. These professionals often worked on asbestos-contaminated construction and demolition sites. Since various crane parts contained asbestos, operators were also exposed to the hazardous material when servicing their cranes or inspecting safety components.

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Crane Operators and Asbestos Exposure

Crane operators are at the top of the hierarchy in the world of heavy equipment operation. Operating a construction or loading crane takes a high level of skill, and most crane operators are well paid. Their various responsibilities include handling valuable materials and protecting their expensive machinery.

A crane operator’s career can be a dangerous one. Working with cranes poses many hazards, including falling materials, overloading, and electrical hazards. Historically, crane operators also faced the danger of asbestos exposure.

As long as asbestos remains stable and undisturbed, it’s not particularly dangerous. But when it’s cut or torn during installation, asbestos becomes highly hazardous.

Working with asbestos causes fine particles to dislodge from the material and become airborne. These microscopic fibers float through the air, finding their way into workers’ respiratory and digestive systems.

Crane Operators Were Unaware of Asbestos Risks

It didn’t matter if a crane operator was at ground level or perched high in the air. They were at risk of breathing in or swallowing airborne asbestos fibers daily. Tragically, most crane operators of the era received no warning that asbestos exposure was dangerous. 

How Crane Operators Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos was once a very popular building material. Several different work environments and construction materials put crane operators at risk of asbestos exposure between the 1920s and 1980s.

Demolition Sites

Demolition sites were just as hazardous as construction sites when it came to asbestos exposure. Practically every commercial building built in the early- and mid-20th century contained tons of asbestos. Before the dangers of asbestos were known, the material was considered perfect for insulation and fireproofing.

Crane operators were often present on demolition sites, using wrecking balls to destroy buildings. This would release large amounts of trapped asbestos dust into the air where it could be inhaled by anyone working nearby.

Asbestos in Crane Parts

Since asbestos is exceptionally durable and heat-resistant, many crane machinery parts contained asbestos materials. Every time a crane operator serviced their machine or checked the brakes, they faced a high risk of asbestos exposure.

Poor Ventilation

Most crane operators worked in open cabs or control areas, exposing them to any asbestos floating around the job site. Even if the cabs were enclosed, few were air-conditioned or had air filtration systems. Cramped areas with poor ventilation like these easily trap airborne asbestos.

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Asbestos Used in Crane Manufacturing

Asbestos-containing products were extremely common between the 1920s and 1980s. The material was often used in various crane parts.

Brakes in the wheels and hoisting apparatus contained asbestos to control friction and heat. Engine compartments were also lined with asbestos to control sound, temperature and fire risk.

Crane operators were prime candidates for inhaling and ingesting asbestos dust that was prominent on so many worksites.

These operators spent their day-to-day professional lives handling asbestos-containing materials for years on end. Crane operators also worked in environments where other workers installed asbestos products, including drywall, roofing, and insulation.

Crane Operator Careers

Crane operator roles cover a wide range of jobs and worksites, but their main responsibility is moving heavy material. Cranes come in all sizes and power ranges.

Small, mobile cranes are used for light duties in cramped spaces, while giant cranes are usually fixed in one spot to hoist heavy loads continuously.

The most common types of construction cranes include:

  • Mobile Cranes: Maneuverable and relatively small. These cranes are mounted on tracks or rubber tires. Often, mobile cranes are highway legal, allowing them to travel between worksites easily. The crane operators sit in a cab at ground level and control extension booms with drop cables.
  • Overhead Cranes: Mounted above a fixed worksite. They’re often found at facilities like shipyards and loading docks. These cranes usually run on tracks and rails covering a large area. Most overhead crane operators are positioned at low levels and use remote controls.
  • Tower Cranes: Seen at large construction sites. Tower cranes can swivel 360 degrees. They include a cable and hook hoisting apparatus, which travels along a boom that’s balanced by a counterweight. Tower cranes are erected at the beginning of a construction project and taken down at completion.

Crane operators are found at almost every large worksite. Some are temporary workers, only present for a day or two. Other operators spend a good deal of their careers at one location.

Crane operators work at a variety of job sites, such as:

  • Commercial and industrial construction sites
  • Large demolition and renovation workplaces
  • Shipyards and refitting dockyards
  • Steel and iron mills
  • Highway and bridge construction
  • Railroad, marine and air transportation projects
  • Mines, sawmills and forestry sites
  • Power generation stations

Crane Operator Health Risks

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer with only one known cause — asbestos exposure. Crane operators and other workers who inhaled or ingested airborne asbestos fibers at hazardous worksites are at risk of developing mesothelioma.

Once microscopic asbestos fibers enter the human body, they attach themselves to the lung lining (pleura) or the abdominal lining (peritoneum). These tiny fibers are impossible to expel and remain embedded in the lungs or abdomen for decades.

Without warning, the irritating fibers eventually trigger the formation of cancerous tumors 20-50 years after initial exposure.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

If you worked as a crane operator and were exposed to asbestos, you might be at risk of developing mesothelioma. While there is no known cure for mesothelioma, you may be eligible for compensation to cover your medical expenses and lost income.

Mesothelioma victims may be able to obtain compensation for their illness by filing a lawsuit against a negligent asbestos product supplier. Families who are helping ill relatives or considering a wrongful death suit also have legal options.

For more information on seeking compensation for mesothelioma, contact our Justice Support Team today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: October 24, 2019

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