Carpenters play an important role in today’s construction industry. From framing in walls to installing insulation and drywall, carpenters do a wide range of jobs for residential and commercial projects. In any given day, carpenters use dozens of tools while working in confined spaces. They face a high risk of occupational injury due to heavy lifting, dangerous machinery, and asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is most common among older homes or commercial buildings where original asbestos insulation needs to be removed and replaced. For long-term carpenters who have previously worked with asbestos materials and those who encounter them in current remodel projects, the risk for asbestos cancers and mesothelioma is incredibly high.
Carpenters can face asbestos from molding, insulation, or floor and ceiling tiles. Before people really understood the dangers and risks associated with asbestos, the material was used practically everywhere. If you were a carpenter prior to 1980, it’s highly likely that you handled asbestos sheets on a regular basis, cutting them and using them for multiple applications. This could have caused exposure to microscopic particles of asbestos dust, which can lead to mesothelioma if ingested or inhaled.
Many carpenters erroneously believed that wearing a face mask was the only protection needed to prevent asbestos exposure. However, typical work masks cannot protect you from high concentrations of microscopic asbestos fibers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration now mandates that workers wear respirators when handling asbestos.
Individuals who are remodeling or demolishing older homes should wear the appropriate safety gear when dealing with materials likely to contain asbestos. If it is unclear whether the home contains asbestos, it is always wise to take precautions and to inform others on the work site of the possible threat of exposure.
Asbestos Research Related to Carpenters
Multiple studies have revealed the deadly risks for carpenters exposed to asbestos. A study conducted in 1983 examined 127 American buildings for asbestos. The results showed that 50 percent had insulation containing asbestos on the ceilings. Before workers began renovations of the buildings, average concentrations of asbestos breathing levels were lower than 2 fibers per cubic centimeter. This level skyrocketed once the asbestos removal began, with an average exposure of 16.4 fibers per cubic centimeter. Wetting down the asbestos before it was removed reduced the exposure level substantially.
In another study published in 2010, doctors evaluated a carpenter with fluid build-up on his right lung. His lungs eventually developed major inflammation that caused constant pain with breathing. While the doctors had no medical explanation for the man’s condition, they did determine that he had been exposed to asbestos in 1971 for a period of six months. The doctors concluded that the carpenter’s lung problems were directly linked to this asbestos exposure.
There have been several lawsuits involving carpenters who suffered from asbestos-related diseases. In 2008, the family of one carpenter sued 68 companies after he died from an asbestos-related disease. The lawsuit claimed the companies had neglected to do adequate testing for asbestos and failed to warn consumers of the potential dangers.
Asbestos exposure is a serious risk for carpenters, just like it is for other construction laborers and contractors. If you work in this field and believe you may have encountered asbestos materials, it’s important to alert your doctor. Sometimes it takes many years before symptoms develop, but if your doctor is aware of the potential damage, he or she can properly screen you for diseases like mesothelioma before they have a chance to advance to life-threatening stages.