Asbestos: Onus of second hand exposure is on employers
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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, once widely used in construction and manufacturing due to its heat-resistant and durable properties.

However, we now know that exposure to asbestos can have serious health consequences, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

As an employer or employee, it’s crucial to understand the risks and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your colleagues.

Let’s take a look how you can keep your team safe, and your company free from costly OSHA fines.


Related Article: Understanding and Preventing Occupational Lung Diseases

Related Article: EPA Proposes Sweeping Ban on Asbestos


Recognizing Asbestos Hazards


Asbestos can be found in a variety of materials, including insulation, floor tiles, roofing shingles, and even some automotive parts.

It’s important to be aware of the potential sources in your workplace and to avoid disturbing or handling these materials without proper training and equipment.


Implementing Asbestos Safety Protocols


To protect workers from asbestos exposure, you’ll need to have a comprehensive asbestos management plan in place.

This plan should include:

– Identifying and labeling all asbestos-containing materials in the workplace

– Providing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers who may come into contact with the material

– Implementing safe work practices, such as wet methods and HEPA-filtered vacuums, to minimize the release of asbestos fibers

– Providing regular awareness training for all employees

– Conducting air monitoring and medical surveillance to ensure worker safety


Asbestos Makes Its Way Home from Work


In December 2016, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that companies may be held liable if asbestos from a job site causes harm or sickness to a member of a worker’s home.

“We conclude that it was foreseeable that people who work with or around asbestos may carry asbestos fibers home with them and expose members of their household. This factor weighs in favor of the existence of a duty,” wrote Justice Goodwin Liu, who wrote for the panel.

“Employers have a duty to take reasonable care.”

That care pertains to preventing workers from carrying asbestos home via clothing and/or personal effects.


Kesner and Haver


The ruling came two years after 53-year-old Johnny Blaine Kesner, Jr. passed away from peritoneal mesothelioma caused by secondhand exposure.

After being diagnosed with the incurable, aggressive cancer in 2011, Kesner filed a lawsuit against Pneumo Abex, L.L.C., a New Jersey-based company known for producing asbestos brakes.


Related: The OSHA Asbestos Physical


Although he lost the initial case, an appellate court ruled in his favor and sent it to the state Supreme Court.

In a similar case, Haver v. BNSF Railway Co., the children of Lynne Haver filed a wrongful death suit against BNSF after her 2008 mesothelioma diagnosis and subsequent death in 2009 from its complications.

Even though Kesner and Haver never worked directly with the material, their cases determined the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Kesner v. Superior Court and Haver v. BNSF Railway Co. discredited a common misconception about asbestos-related diseases.

Employees who work in asbestos-contaminated environments are not the only ones at risk. In Kesner’s case, he lived with his uncle George, who worked for Pneumo Abex in the mid-1970s.

For Haver, it was her former husband that worked with asbestos from 1972 to 1974 at BNSF – known then as Santa Fe Railway. The workers wore their work clothes home and interacted with family members, thus unknowingly exposing them to harmful toxins.

Asbestos-related disease symptoms may take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to arise, which explains why neither Kesner or Haver became ill upwards of 35 years later.


Asbestos Diseases Still Problematic


Nearly 125 million people worldwide still remain exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

As a result, over 107,000 of them die each year from issues related to lung cancers and diseases. In fact, nearly half of all occupational cancer deaths occur as a direct result of asbestos exposure.

What those statistics don’t show, however, are deaths resulting from secondary exposure.

It’s nearly impossible to know just how many of the 200,000 people who live with asbestosis in the United States, or the 2,000 to 3,200 Americans that die from asbestos-related lung cancer annually contracted it second hand.

Thus, the onus falls upon the company to ensure that it takes every measure to not only keep workers safe, but their families as well.

The first step to keeping workers and their families safe is to be in compliance with OSHA Standard CFR 29 1910.1001 and 1926.1101.

Employers are required to institute a medical surveillance program for all employees exposed to airborne concentrations of the substance at or above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) or excursion limit (EL).

The full OSHA asbestos physical must be performed by or under the supervision of a licensed physician.

Furthermore, the physical must be made available annually with the exception of the chest x-ray, which is conducted every five years within the first ten years of exposure. After ten years, the frequency of the x-ray depends on the age of the employee.

Employers must also keep accurate records of exposure measurements for at least 30 years.

If the workers are at risk for asbestos-related disease, then their families and friends likely are as well.


Responding to Exposure Incidents at Work


Despite best efforts, accidents and incidents involving exposure can still occur. In the event of an exposure incident, it’s crucial to follow established protocols:

1. Evacuate the area and prevent further exposure.
2. Notify the appropriate authorities and follow their instructions.
3. Seek immediate medical attention for any workers who may have been exposed.
4. Properly contain and dispose of any asbestos-contaminated materials.


Empowering Employees to Speak Up


Employees play a vital role in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. Encourage your colleagues to report any suspected asbestos hazards or exposure incidents, and ensure that they feel empowered to do so without fear of retaliation.


Bringing It Together


Secondhand asbestos exposure can pose serious health risks, including an increased risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Family members of asbestos workers have the highest risk for secondary exposure, as asbestos fibers can cling to the worker’s clothing, skin, and hair and be brought into the home. Even infrequent contact with an asbestos worker, such as hugging or a child sitting in their lap, can lead to exposure.

Handling or washing contaminated clothing at home is another common way secondhand exposure occurs. Asbestos fibers can also become embedded in household furnishings and fabrics, leading to ongoing exposure.

While regulations have reduced occupational asbestos exposure, new cases of asbestos-related diseases from secondary exposure continue to be diagnosed due to the long latency period of 20-60 years between exposure and disease development.

Experts suggest the increase in mesothelioma cases in women may be partly due to rising secondhand exposures.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and secondhand exposure can be just as dangerous as direct occupational exposure. Proper precautions, such as specialized laundry services and decontamination procedures, are essential to protect family members of asbestos workers.


How Do I Schedule Exams?


You’ll need to find a medical provider in your area that specializes in occupational health.

In the case of Worksite Medical, we make that easier with mobile medical testing.

With Worksite Medical, you can get all the resources of a lab brought directly to your worksite. We’ll tailor a comprehensive medical surveillance program to your specific needs. Our services include silica exams, physical testing, heavy metal labs, PPE fit testing, x-rays, audiometric exams, and much more. And, we safely maintain all of your team’s medical records, and provide you with quick access.

You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.

Protect your team and your workplace now with Worksite Medical. Not sure what you need? Try our medical testing wizard here.

Give us a call at 1-844-622-8633, or complete the form below to schedule an on-site visit or to get your free quote.

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