Whether you install hardwood floors, carpets, or tile, it’s important to know the risks for asbestos exposure. Flooring technicians are among the most high-risk category for occupational hazards. From the early 1900s through the late 1970s, most popular flooring in homes and commercial buildings contained asbestos. It was considered one of the most resilient materials with the ability to stand up to high temperatures, making if flame-resistant and a smart choice for residential and commercial building projects.
Flooring technicians can encounter asbestos in several ways. The most frequent exposure happens when removing old tile flooring that contains asbestos. When these tiles are cut away or pulled up from the subflooring, it can release an invisible haze of dust particles that contain dangerous asbestos. When you breathe in these particles, it can leave your lungs full of tiny asbestos fibers that cause scarring and lead to malignant tumors and mesothelioma.
Asbestos can also be in the actual adhesive used to attach old vinyl or linoleum tiles to floors. As you remove old flooring, use extreme caution to avoid touching or inhaling any potential asbestos materials. If asbestos is suspected, flooring technicians should wear protective suits and respirator masks at all times. Just because you are not working with the asbestos itself does not mean that you cannot be exposed to it on site.
While existing asbestos flooring may not pose immediate risks, it can quickly become dangerous if it is cut or moved. Flooring that is heavily worn can expose people to asbestos as tiny frays release particles into the air. Homes that were built between 1930 and 1970 are most likely to have asbestos flooring or flooring adhesives.
Asbestos Research & Construction
Many studies have shown the high risk of mesothelioma among construction workers and flooring technicians. An estimated 1.3 million people in the construction industry are currently at risk for asbestos exposure. The highest risk group are those doing demo work or renovation of older buildings and floors. In recent reports, the Environmental Protection Agency speculated that around 733,000 commercial buildings still contain asbestos.
The brands that are most closely associated with asbestos exposure include:
- Johns Manville
- National Gypsum
- American Biltrite
- G.W. Berkheimer
Managing Risk Factors
According to OSHA, asbestos particles are invisible to the naked high. For safety purposes, flooring technicians should always assume that any floor material that was installed before 1980 contains asbestos. Never operate high-speed buffers or sanders on flooring that might contain asbestos. Use wet methods to prevent particles from circulating in the air. It’s critical that flooring technicians wear protective suits and respirator masks at all times when asbestos contamination is expected.
If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos as a flooring technician, you should alert your doctor right away. It can take years for symptoms of lung damage to emerge, but your doctor can begin regular health monitoring to catch mesothelioma or potentially cancerous tumors before they have a chance to spread.