Operating Engineers and Asbestos Exposure
Operating engineers are frequently exposed to asbestos throughout their professional duties.
A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine shows that 50% of operating engineers are exposed to asbestos on the job.
Common places to encounter asbestos include:
- Construction sites
- Boiler rooms
- Machinery maintenance
Many operating engineers perform their work duties on industrial and commercial construction sites. Asbestos dust may be disturbed from the soil, gravel, or cement during construction or demolition processes and inhaled by those present on the worksite.
Working With Heavy Machinery
In older machinery such as bulldozers and cranes, the cabs weren’t enclosed, allowing dust and asbestos fibers in. If the cabs were enclosed, operators would often have to open the windows to cool off.
Today, new machinery requires enclosed and air-conditioned cabs. However, many operating engineers still work in older, unenclosed, cabs.
Older machinery also used asbestos in brakes on wheels and hoisting apparatuses to control friction and heat. Whenever an operating engineer checked or serviced their brakes during routine maintenance, they encountered asbestos.
Facility Maintenance and Operation
Boiler rooms and machine rooms relied on asbestos products to regulate temperatures and prevent fires. Workers in facilities such as schools and hospitals encountered asbestos on a daily basis.
Doctors have found asbestos-caused lung scarring in over 25% of school custodians in a study conducted by the New York Board of Education. The study found that the longer the workers were employed as custodians, the higher their chances of lung disease. Nearly 90% of the custodians in the study reported having worked directly with asbestos-containing materials.
While the asbestos has been sealed or removed in many public buildings, past workers have already suffered damage to their respiratory or digestive systems due to asbestos inhalation or ingestion.
Governments and employers have largely mitigated the risk of asbestos exposure to operating engineers. However, it’s still possible for an operating engineer working with old equipment, or renovating or demolishing an older building, to encounter asbestos.