We posted recently on our North Carolina Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog that firefighters are at a heightened risk of transportation accidents, especially when responding to emergency calls. Our Statesville workers' compensation lawyers know that there are many other concerns that Fire Departments need to contend with in order to keep work crews safe.
One serious hazard that firefighters need to be concerned with is exposure to asbestos during a North Carolina fire rescue as was recently reported by WCTI 12.
A local Fire Department is being investigated by the North Carolina Department of Labor for allegedly putting its workers at risk of asbestos exposure while preparing a house for a training session. The chief disputes the claim as the firefighters only removed carpeting from the house. No citations have been issued but the investigation is ongoing.
We typically associate asbestos hazards with the construction industry. But the truth is many types of workers can be exposed when an employer doesn't take preventative measures or offer protective equipment to reduce the risk. Carpenters, utility workers, electricians, pipe fitters or plumbers, steel mill workers and mechanics are some of the jobs that require protective equipment to reduce the chance of exposure to the deadly diseases that can be contracted from asbestos.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines asbestos as a mineral fiber that when taken in at high levels can lead to health problems such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer. Asbestos can be found in older products such as floor tiles, steam pipes, furnace ducts, door gaskets, cement sheet, or automobile brake pads and linings.
Environmental Working Group reports that almost 30 Americans die daily on average from asbestos-related diseases and men over the age of 50 are most at risk. On average, asbestos-related diseases kill almost 10,000 people annually who have contracted mesothelioma (2509), asbestosis (1,398), lung cancer (4,800) and gastro-intestinal cancer (1,200).
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration classifies asbestos hazards into four categories. Class I involves the removal of thermal insulation and troweled or sprayed-on surfacing asbestos. Class II includes any other type of non-thermal asbestos-containing materials which need removed. Class III concentrates on maintenance and repair operations where asbestos is believed to have been disturbed. Class IV involves custodial procedures where employees may be exposed from clean-up of asbestos-related materials or debris.
Employers have a responsibility to limit employee exposure to asbestos. Over an averaged 8-hour work shift, an employee's exposure should not go over .1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air. For exposures lasting 30 minutes, an employee should not exceed 1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air. Employers are forbidden to rotate employees in order to comply with allowable exposure limits.
Employers are required to create regulated areas which are clearly marked with warning signs where employees working with asbestos can be protected. No visitors or untrained personnel without protective equipment are permitted in the controlled zone area. No eating, drinking or smoking should take place in this area.
Employees aren't usually aware of the asbestos-related hazards associated with performing certain job tasks. If you feel you are at risk or have concerns about exposure, feel free to ask questions or additional job training. It is your right to be protected while you work on the job.