Asbestos Exposure in Operating Engineers

Operating engineers build and maintain the infrastructure we interact with every day. They build our roads, dams, and pipelines and they maintain our schools, hospitals, sporting arenas, and power plants.

In their varied roles, operating engineers often come into contact with asbestos. For many operating engineers, this asbestos exposure has led to diseases like mesothelioma.

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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

Construction Sites

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.

Did You Know?

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.

Operating Engineers Roles and Responsibilities

There are many roles operating engineers may fit into, including:

  • Building and maintaining infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and tunnels
  • Building pipelines
  • Maintaining dams
  • Operating heavy machinery such as cranes and bulldozers
  • Operating cooling and heating systems in public spaces, such as schools, hospitals, and sporting arenas
  • Running the petrochemical plants for water and energy needs
  • Working on oil refineries and rigs


Mesothelioma Risk

After decades of tissue scarring, many workers develop mesothelioma — a condition caused tumor growth in the organ linings triggered by asbestos.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. When inhaled or ingested, the microscopic fibers attach to the lining of the lung or abdomen. The fibers cause scarring and irritation to healthy tissues over time.

Seeking Legal Compensation

If you have been exposed to asbestos over the course of your career as an operating engineer and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be awarded compensation.

Legal compensation allows victims to recover medical expenses, lost wages, cover end-of-life costs, and support loved ones. Compensation may also be available to family members of deceased mesothelioma patients.

Our Justice Support Team can provide more information about legal justice for workers exposed to asbestos. Get a free case review today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 5 Sources
  1. United States Department of Labour, “Occupational Health and Safety Administration”. Retrieved from Accessed on May 9, 2018.
  2. The New York Times, “High Asbestos Exposure Seen in School Custodians”, Retrieved from Accessed on May 9, 2018.
  3. International Union of Operating Engineers, “What We Do”, Retrieved from Accessed on May 9, 2018.
  4. US National Library of Medicine National Health Institute, “Health Behaviors of Operating Engineers”, Retrieved from Accessed on May 9, 2018.
  5. Infrastructure of Health and Safety Association, “Occupational Health Risks: Operational Engineers/Heavy Equipment Operators”, Retrieved from Accessed on May 9, 2018.
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