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Plumbers and Pipefitters: 7 Ways to Protect Yourself from Asbestos on the Job

asbestos exposureAnyone who performs construction or is employed at a job related to home and building maintenance needs to be cautious about asbestos exposure, especially if they work on structures erected during a time when use of the mineral was more rampant. Plumbers are among those tradespeople who need to be careful because asbestos is a common component of insulation materials, which can be present in various spaces that house pipes, or be used to wrap the pipes themselves.

Because this is extremely disturbing for us here at Kazan Law, I thought this might be a good time to talk about the risks plumbers face in general.

Scientists knew about the hazard to plumbers for decades
Civilization has used asbestos for centuries because its physical properties make it resistant to heat and friction. In the U.S., the use of asbestos reached its peak during the mid-1970s, when the mineral was used in the manufacturing of more than 3,000 consumer and industrial products. When it came to construction, that meant soundproofing and insulation materials, including blankets that were used as wrapping around pipes.

If you’re a plumber who has to work in a building that was constructed before 1980, you may be at risk for exposure to asbestos. For more than 70 years, scientists have shown this to be a legitimate concern.

I read a study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, that was released in 1985. The authors talked about an experiment they conducted, in which they looked at a group of 153 plumbers and pipefitters. All research participants completed medical questionnaires and underwent several tests to measure the health of their lungs.

The scientists discovered that nearly 20 percent of the subjects had thickening of the pleura, or the tissue sacs that encase the lungs, on both sides of their chests. This is a common problem associated with asbestos exposure.

Additionally, asbestos is associated with several potentially fatal illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma, gastrointestinal cancers, asbestosis and more. In fact, the Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 9,900 individuals in the U.S. die from asbestos-induced diseases every year.

One of the dangers of these illnesses is that individuals may not see a doctor until they start experiencing symptoms, and by then, it may be too late for a cure. This is why it’s important for tradespeople such as plumbers to be conscious of the risk.

Proper training can help prevent tragedies
The federal Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration require that anyone who works in the construction of housing or other buildings that contain asbestos to be trained specifically to handle this hazard properly. These regulations may differ from state to state, but organizations such as the National Center for Health Housing have calendars that list training sessions centered on subjects such as asbestos, lead, mold, pests and energy efficiency.

Furthermore, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering in the UK lists several things that you can do to protect yourself on plumbing jobs:

  1. If you suspect that a product you need to handle has asbestos, dampen it before touching it so the fibers are less likely to become airborne.- Use hand-operated tools instead of power tools, which are more likely to disturb asbestos fibers.
  2. Whenever you need to clean up dust, use only a damp cloth or a Type H vacuum to perform the task.
  3. Instead of letting waste build up, dispose of it as you go along.
  4. Clean your hands and face before every break and before heading home.
  5. Do not bring work clothes back to your house.
  6. If you find any asbestos-containing materials that require disposal, put them in a sealable container, or double-bag them within heavy-duty polythene bags.
  7. When at work at a job site, refrain from smoking, drinking or eating.
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