Occupational asbestos exposure refers to exposure that occurs at work, and it puts people at an increased risk for a number of asbestos-related diseases, including both cancerous and noncancerous conditions. In the past, asbestos was very common across a variety of industries. Today, it’s more highly regulated, but is still not completely banned. Employers are required to provide proper protective equipment to their employees and may be liable for compensating employees who develop asbestos-related disease due to occupational asbestos exposure.
What is occupational asbestos exposure?
Occupational asbestos exposure refers to exposure that occurs while an employee is performing work-related activities. Official estimates indicate that about 27 million workers in the United States were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979.
The families of workers may also be at risk for asbestos-related diseases because when workers return home, asbestos fibers may be carried on their clothing, skin or hair. The fibers then enter the air of the home and can be inhaled or swallowed by others who live there. This is known as secondary asbestos exposure.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that there is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos. In fact, there are reports of mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposures that lasted only a few days. This is more likely to occur when the short-term exposure involves a very high level of asbestos. For example, in certain situations, a significant amount of asbestos is suddenly aerosolized, such as during the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. This event created a high-level, short-term exposure for victims and first responders.
Any amount of asbestos exposure has the potential to cause asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma or lung cancer, but the risk increases with higher levels of exposure. The greater a person’s total cumulative asbestos exposure, the greater their risk of asbestos-related disease. A short exposure to a relatively low level of asbestos is very unlikely to cause disease. However, being exposed to a high level of asbestos for a short period of time, or to a lower level over a long period of time, increases the risk. For example, people exposed to asbestos at work for 15 years or longer have nearly two and a half times the risk of developing lung disease as those who were exposed for less than five years.