Factory workers do a variety of jobs, from assembly to operating machinery to loading and unloading shipments. Most workers spend the majority of their time on production lines, doing repetitive tasks for hours at a time. They may face quotas for each day or each week to help maintain efficiency. In modern times, factory work has improved with the introduction of new technology. While factories were once cramped and lacked adequate ventilation, newer factories are much more comfortable for employees. However, factory work still carries a high risk for occupational hazards and one of the most concerning is asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Exposure in Factories
Asbestos materials have been used in factories for decades. While modern laws now limit the use of this dangerous material, many factory workers were exposed for years before anyone truly understood the risk. Asbestos was often hidden in small parts of machinery or in insulation products. For example, lathes often contained asbestos insulation. These machines rotated products so that factory workers could have access to all sides, but as the insulation wore down, asbestos fibers were commonly released into the air and inhaled by the surrounding workers.
Grinding machines also frequently contained asbestos. The wheels were typically made from a resin that contained asbestos. Transportation belts may have contained asbestos fibers for reinforcement as well. With years of wear and tear, the edges of belts would fray, introducing microscopic asbestos particles into the air.
To make matters worse, many factories featured asbestos tiles on the floor or ceiling. The dangerous material was hidden in bricks and even in the drywall. Concrete might even have asbestos compounds added. Factory workers were essentially destined to work in a hotbed of asbestos exposure, causing a high risk of developing cancer and mesothelioma many years later.
Perhaps the most dangerous risk was in the factories that actually manufactured asbestos products. Workers in these plants often handled raw asbestos, using it to create tools, putties, ropes, and other products. Every day spent in an asbestos factory dramatically increased a worker’s risk for cancer.
Long-Term Consequences of Exposure
Mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases often take years to develop after the initial exposure. One study monitored factory workers from Connecticut in the years after their exposure to asbestos products. While the facility had previously claimed that employees had no asbestos-related illness or deaths, this study proved those statements as false, finding seven different cases of mesothelioma among former factory workers.
As the terrifying health risks of asbestos has started to impact factory workers across America, numerous lawsuits have emerged. In 2008, a Wisconsin assembly line worker sued her previous employer for $100,000 after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Another factory worker with mesothelioma sued 32 product manufacturers that were involved in his asbestos exposure in Illinois. He was awarded $16 million. In 2010, New Jersey courts awarded the largest verdict in an asbestos case, giving the family of a former factory worker at General Motors $30.3 million.
If you worked in a factory and believe you might have faced asbestos exposure at some point in your career, it’s important to alert your doctor right away to ensure that your health is monitored appropriately. If you’ve already received an asbestos-related diagnosis, speaking with an attorney can provide you with a path forward.