Asbestos exposure is common among floor coverers and other construction workers. In fact, OSHA classifies construction as the most dangerous sector in the United States for occupational hazards. Floor coverers face a number of routine risks ranging from falls to electrocution, but perhaps the most dangerous is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was frequently used in construction materials until recent years when doctors and scientists began to fully understand the dangers. Asbestos exposure can lead to severe lung disease including cancer and mesothelioma.
While modern flooring materials don’t contain the same high levels of asbestos, floor coverers still face a huge risk for exposure. There are still thousands of contaminated buildings where asbestos is hiding in floor tiles, insulation, shingles, and wiring components. According to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, around 1.3 million workers on construction sites around the nation still face a critical risk for asbestos exposure. The most dangerous risks accompany work on buildings that were built prior to 1970.
Asbestos Exposure Risks for Floor Coverers
Floor coverers are most likely encounter asbestos when removing old floor tiles that are made from asbestos. Because of this, it’s crucial to wear protective gear—including respirator masks—before removing this type of old flooring. When it is cut away, sanded, or handled, asbestos flooring can release small particles into the air. When these are inhaled, they can introduce small asbestos fibers into the lung tissue. These fibers are permanently implanted there and can lead to severe inflammation and scarring that eventually turns into malignant tumors and cancer.
Of course, the risk doesn’t end there. Because floor coverers are often working on busy job sites where other construction work is underway, they can also be exposed to asbestos coming from other areas. Demolition of old walls or ceilings can release asbestos particles into the air. Asbestos is not always easy to identify and exposure doesn’t cause any immediate symptoms.
This means many floor coverers aren’t aware that they’ve been exposed to asbestos until they develop an illness years, or even decades, later.
Many construction materials used in older buildings contain asbestos. The EPA released a report with estimates of 733,000 public buildings that still contain dangerous asbestos materials. The most common culprits are shingles and floor tiles, placing floor coverers in one of the highest risk groups for illness after occupational exposure.
Despite its dangers, asbestos once offered a smart solution for home builders. Because it can resist high temperatures, it is heat resistant and fire retardant. Manufacturers included asbestos in spray-on insulation, ceiling tiles, and floor tiles to protect buildings. Even industrial buildings contained many forms of asbestos, with spray-on products covering metal structures and steel columns.
Are You at Risk of Developing an Asbestos-Related Disease?
If you worked as a floor coverer prior to the 1980s, you have likely been exposed to asbestos. For floor coverers who are still at work today, it’s critical to be aware of the dangers, especially when working on older buildings and removing old flooring that could contain asbestos. If you think you’ve been exposed at any point, alert your doctor so you can receive regular health monitoring to identify early warning signs of mesothelioma or related cancers.