Despite the fact that the dangers of asbestos are widely known, the substance is not banned in the United States, and workers continue to suffer from exposure to the deadly fibers. Asbestos-related diseases, particularly mesothelioma and lung cancer, are incurable. Once you inhale or consume the tiny fibers, they remain in your lungs. With prolonged exposure, your risk of becoming ill increases.
Since most asbestos-related diseases may not manifest as symptoms until decades after the exposure, those workplaces that are most vulnerable to asbestos exposure — such as plants that manufacture brake pads or railroads — are required to comply with careful guidelines to keep their workers safe.
OSHA guidelines for asbestos exposure
Across the world, 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related illnesses. In the United States, up to 3,200 die annually, including here in Pennsylvania. Your exposure to asbestos may have you concerned about your future, or you may already be showing signs of the illness, including coughing or difficulty breathing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set standards for employers in high-risk industries, that is, those industries where exposure to asbestos concentrations are above OSHA's permitted limit. Employers in such jobs must do the following:
- Provide a licensed physician to perform OSHA-qualified asbestos physical exams with a chest x-ray if you are exposed to high levels of asbestos
- Provide subsequent exams annually without a chest x-ray
- Provide chest x-rays every 5 years
- Ten years after the exposure, provide more frequent x-rays depending on your age
- Maintain complete records of asbestos levels and exposure for 30 years or longer
While all of these safeguards may protect you and other employees who work under the threat of asbestos exposure, it seems there are others who are at risk despite never having set foot inside a high-risk industry. These victims are your family members.
Families are the unexpected victims
A recent court case confirmed that companies owe a duty to the families of exposed workers since many of those who greeted and interacted with an employee coming home from the job, or who tended to the laundry of that employee, likely also inhaled the toxic fibers. In addition to former workers becoming ill decades after their exposure, doctors are now treating the spouses and children who are beginning to show symptoms of the deadly diseases.
If you or your loved one are suffering from an asbestos-related illness, you have rights. There are protections in place for you and options for you to seek potential compensation. While taking these steps will not return you to a state of good health, you may find a way to provide peace and security for your family.