Railroad Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Railroads sprang up in the mid-1800s connecting America coast-to-coast. Technology advanced in the mid-1900s when diesel-electric trains replaced steam engines.
During this golden age of rail, what was thought to be a miracle product was employed in every part of rolling stock construction. That supposedly ideal material was asbestos, and over time it exposed many railroaders to its deadly fibers.
Many aspects of railroad work exposed employees to asbestos. It was used on rolling stock, in yards, and about the shops. Asbestos was considered the perfect railroad material additive.
How Railroad Workers Were Exposed to Asbestos
Railroad workers were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis from the 1920s to the 1980s. Some workers had more severe exposure than others.
In railroad workers, asbestos exposure varied on:
- the products they used
- the amount of asbestos the products contained
- the duration of time the workers were exposed to asbestos fibers
Every asbestos product presented a health risk to railroad workers. Stable asbestos is somewhat safe, but when asbestos is disturbed, microscopic fibers detach and become airborne.
Many asbestos products cut, fitted, or repaired by railroad workers released millions of tiny shards that workers could inhale.
Building and construction supplies were only a few of the railroad asbestos products with exposure risks. Diesel locomotives replaced steam engines in the 1950s and 1960s, but the high heat and fire threat hazards continued. Railroad workers protected themselves with asbestos-based clothing like overalls, gloves, boots, and hats.