Asbestos Exposure in Heavy Equipment Mechanics

Heavy equipment mechanics are responsible for working on a range of large equipment, both for maintenance and repairs. Servicing these types of heavy machines usually involves taking parts away to be cleaned or replaced, and it is during these situations that the risk of coming into contact with asbestos is maximized.

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Heavy Equipment Mechanics and Asbestos Exposure

When working in factories with machines, there are always a lot of risks associated. However, before the 1980s, one of the most misunderstood risks was asbestos. Asbestos was once hailed as a miracle mineral and was used from the 1920s until the early 1980s because of its desirable properties.

Asbestos benefits included:

  • Low cost
  • Reduced wear and friction
  • Resistant against heat and fire
  • Resistant to chemicals
  • Resistant to electricity

All of the above characteristics made asbestos an essential tool in the manufacturing and construction industries. But these tiny particles of asbestos are also easily friable. Once airborne, they can be detrimental to lung health.

Heavy Equipment Mechanics Roles and Responsibilities

As with any skilled profession, it’s the responsibility of a heavy equipment mechanic to troubleshoot issues and implement changes.

The key roles of a heavy equipment mechanic are:

  • Cleaning heavy equipment
  • Fixing universal joints
  • Identifying potential issues before they arise
  • Maintaining machinery and performing routine checks
  • Repairing machines
  • Rebuilding engines
  • Servicing machines
  • Tuning engines

Unfortunately, many of these duties put workers at risk of asbestos exposure.

Brake Repair and Removal

Heavy equipment mechanics were exposed to asbestos in many ways, but one of the most common was though brake repair and removal.

Asbestos-containing brake pads were often used on heavy equipment until the dangers of this toxic material were realized in 1980. Before this point, asbestos was a commonly used substance to fireguard and protect both workers and equipment in manufacturing settings.

However, asbestos would flake off during the repairing and removal process and could have become inhaled by the mechanics.

Other Asbestos Exposure

Once asbestos becomes airborne, it is incredibly difficult to control. The tiny fibers can carry in the air and become attached to shoes, clothing, and hair, which can carry the asbestos to other areas (such as the shared canteen, vehicles, and the home).

Other areas of concern for heavy equipment mechanics include the maintenance and repair of:

Mesothelioma Justice Network Brief

A 2009 study looked into the potential risks to mechanics repairing heavy equipment and found that the levels of asbestos-containing products resulted in an exposure below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standard.

Experts believe that, despite the persistent scraping, hammering, drilling, and cleaning of parts during an 8-hour shift, most of the asbestos would have worn away with friction before it came to routine maintenance. This is good news for the mechanics, as they were exposed to less asbestos than was initially realized.

Heavy Equipment Mechanics and Mesothelioma

Asbestos fibers are so small that they can hardly be seen. Often carried in a cloud of dust, these tiny fibers can become inhaled and embed themselves in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen of heavy-duty mechanics.

Over time, tumors grow and symptoms become more apparent. However, the rarity of a mesothelioma diagnosis means that many doctors will not come across a case in their lifetime. Because of this, it’s incredibly difficult to diagnose.

Many victims will experience breathing problems or abdomen pain, but mesothelioma can take up to 50 years to develop.

If you think that you may have been exposed to asbestos as a heavy-duty mechanic, it’s essential that you mention this to your doctor to gain an early diagnosis. There are several possible life-extending treatments available to mesothelioma patients.

Compensation for Heavy Equipment Mechanics

Being unknowingly exposed to asbestos at work (or not being given the proper protective equipment) is the fault of your employer or negligent asbestos companies. As such, you may have a strong case for compensation.

If you were a heavy-duty mechanic and you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit up to 3 years from your diagnosis date, depending on your state.

Our Justice Support Team help you connect with legal and medical resources. Learn more about the ways we can help.

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: September 17, 2019

View 4 Sources
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  2. Heavy Equipment Maintenance Exposure Assessment: Using a Time-Activity Model to Estimate Surrogate Values for Replacement of Missing Data. Retrieved from: https://oeh.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15459620701411109?src=recsys&journalCode=uoeh20&#.Wu7799PwbOR. Accessed May 6, 2018.
  3. Airborne Asbestos Fibre Exposure Assessment of Heavy Equipment Mechanics. Retrieved from: https://www.aiha.org/aihce05/handouts/po110boelter.pdf. Accessed May 6, 2018.
  4. Airborne asbestos concentrations associated with heavy equipment brake removal. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19692501. Accessed May 6, 2018.
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