Asbestos Exposure in Maintenance Workers

Summary

Maintenance workers are responsible for the upkeep of buildings and equipment in a variety of environments. From textile mills to industrial manufacturing plants, maintenance workers are often exposed to high levels of asbestos, making their job one of the most dangerous occupations for asbestos exposure.

Maintenance Workers Roles and Responsibilities

The role of a maintenance worker is to fix and maintain mechanical equipment, machines and buildings.

Maintenace workers tasks typically include:

  • Repairing machinery
  • Painting
  • Plumbing
  • Replacing electrical equipment
  • Cleaning
  • Maintaining functional condition of apparatus
  • Planning and undertaking scheduled work

In any given day, a maintenance worker could be required to check the boiler, replace floor tiles, repair equipment and clean work surfaces and more, meaning that they are rarely confined to one specific area. This puts them at huge risk of coming into contact with asbestos, which can be found throughout old buildings and facilities.

Maintenance Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Maintenance workers are among those most at-risk of developing asbestos-related diseases due to regular and unprotected exposure to occupational asbestos.

MJN Brief

Before the 1980s, asbestos was used freely in the building and construction industry. Manufacturing plants and commercial buildings were assembled using vast amounts of asbestos as a protective element against heat and fire.

Thousands of products made from the 1950s until 1980 contain asbestos, including houses (as wall insulation), tools (to protect against friction) and coverings on boilers and pipes.

The nature of maintenance work lends itself to creating asbestos dust, and workers could come into contact with dust during any of their routine job duties, including:

  • Fixing a boiler
  • Drilling into walls
  • Maintaining industrial machinery
  • Removing insulation to gain access to electrical wires

Maintenance Workers and Secondary Asbestos Exposure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 1.3 million employees in the construction and general industry have been exposed to asbestos on the job, and this number increases when looking at secondary occupational exposure.

Maintenance workers would have come into direct contact with asbestos in their place of work, but the tiny asbestos fibers could also have been transported to their homes, unknowingly putting their own family at risk.

In the past, maintenance workers were not given proper equipment or clothing to protect themselves at work and would have traveled home in the same clothes, which were most likely covered in dust. There’s a large chance that particles of asbestos were within this dust.

Asbestos clings to clothes, shoes and hair, and this environmental exposure can put family members (or workers in other areas of the building) in danger of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

MJN Brief

A 2009 publication looked at asbestos-related diseases in Quebec and found that between 1988 and 2003, 1,348 maintenance and construction workers suffered from asbestos-related diseases. Even though asbestos is no longer used today, there is an ongoing threat from existing asbestos in older buildings.

Maintenance Workers and Asbestos Exposure Today

Nowadays, asbestos has been mostly phased out of new materials. However, lots of asbestos may remain in older buildings, so maintenance workers must still take great care when working in buildings that pre-date 1980.

In these cases, workers are required to wear overalls to minimize any dust from traveling outside of the working area. Safety standards also madate that workers be provided with proper breathing equipment and PPE should they come into asbestos. They may also need to attend a training course to understand how to handle and dispose of it properly.

Maintenance Workers and Mesothelioma

While asbestos is no longer used in the building industry, mesothelioma—a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure—is still a reality for many workers today. Mesothelioma can take up to 50 years for symptoms to show, meaning we do not know how many cases of the disease are yet to arise.

Asbestos is made of fine fibers, which can be inhaled and attach themselves to the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart. Microscopic fibers can pierce the organ linings, irritate tissues and trigger cancer cell growth. Mesothelioma has no known cure but new therapies can offer hope to patients by slowing disease progression and increasing survival times.

Compensation for Maintenance Workers

Maintenance workers who have developed asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma due to workplace asbestos exposure may be able to seek legal compensation. By working with a specialized mesothelioma lawyer, you can build a case against negligent asbestos manufacturers who put your health at risk.

Legal compensation awarded to mesothelioma patients can help cover costs for treatments and any loss of income and damages suffered as a result of your diagnosis.

For more information on seeking justice for asbestos exposure in maintenance workers, contact our Justice Support Team today.

View Author and Sources
Sources
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  2. Asbestos Toxicity. Retrieved from: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=29&po=7. Accessed on May 10, 2018.
  3. The link between working with asbestos and mesothelioma – case closed?. Retrieved from: http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/01/20/the-link-between-working-with-asbestos-and-mesothelioma-case-closed/. Accessed on May 10, 2018.
  4. Asbestos: Current Knowledge on the Exposure and Diseases of Workers and the General Population in Québec from 2003 to 2009. Retrieved from: https://www.inspq.qc.ca/en/publications/1374. Accessed on May 10, 2018.
  5. Safe Maintenance – Asbestos in Building Maintenance. Retrieved from: https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and-publications/publications/e-facts/efact48
    Accessed on May 10, 2018.

Last modified: May 29, 2018