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Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace

Hundreds of worksites contained asbestos from the 1930s to the 1980s. Now, the deadly mineral is known as a proven cause of mesothelioma. Those exposed to asbestos in the workplace are at risk of getting sick decades after the fact. Learn more about asbestos exposure in the workplace below.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

Last updated:

Controlling Asbestos in the Workplace

Between 1949 and 1979, roughly 27 million people in the United States were exposed to asbestos at their jobs, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

During this time, the dangers of asbestos exposure in the workplace were not widely known since major manufacturers hid the health risks to keep making money.

Workplaces with a high risk of exposure included:

  • Construction sites
  • Mines
  • Power plants
  • Shipyards

Asbestos fibers filled the air of these work environments along with many others.

Did You Know?

Asbestos fibers cannot be removed after they are inhaled or ingested into the lungs or abdomen. Over time, this causes severe tissue damage that can trigger cancer.

Today, asbestos is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing material). The mineral also causes dangerous non-cancerous diseases.

Health risks linked to asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma

None of these workers knew the potentially deadly health risks until they had already been exposed.

Asbestos-related diseases like malignant mesothelioma have no cure and are particularly aggressive.

Fortunately, those who suffered from asbestos exposure in the workplace have options if they get sick. For example, top-notch medical treatments may extend a victim’s life expectancy.

Victims can also access financial compensation through mesothelioma legal claims filed against the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.

Why Was Asbestos Used in the Workplace?

Before the dangerous health effects were widely known, asbestos-containing materials were extremely helpful. They made everything from construction materials to insulation stronger and more durable.

Asbestos was thought to be a miracle material because it is:

  • Chemically stable
  • Lightweight
  • Non-corrosive
  • Resistant to fire
  • Strong
  • Thermally inert

Asbestos also didn’t conduct electricity and didn’t dissolve in water. Further, asbestos was widely available and extremely affordable.

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How Did Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace Occur?

Asbestos exposure in the workplace could occur in a number of ways.

For example, some workers directly handled asbestos-containing products that could release microscopic fibers into the air around them.

Other workers could have been put at risk if asbestos-containing products were used at their job — even if they didn’t directly use them.

Some work sites centered on extracting asbestos right from the ground, which could send microscopic fibers flying into the air.

High-Risk Work Sites

It’s nearly impossible to list every American work site exposing workers to asbestos — hundreds, if not thousands of sites used this deadly mineral.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) classifies over 75 worker groups who were at risk of asbestos exposure in their work sites.

The NIOSH identified high-risk work sites for occupational asbestos exposure.

Top sites that exposed workers to airborne asbestos fibers included:

  • Asbestos mines
  • Construction industry work sites
  • Factories that made asbestos-based products
  • Industrial sites that used asbestos materials for insulation and fireproofing
  • Military service members, since all military branches heavily relied on asbestos
  • Power plants that used asbestos for heat control
  • Ships and shipyards, as ships heavily relied on asbestos-containing materials
  • Textile mills that spun asbestos fibers into fabrics

If asbestos-containing products weren’t being used directly on a worksite, they could be found inside offices, schools, factories, or vehicles.

Even those who worked around asbestos-containing products could be at risk of health problems decades later.

Did You Know?

Some are still at risk of asbestos exposure in the workplace today. For example, older buildings sometimes have asbestos-containing products that can put demolition workers in danger.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure from Work Sites

Many job sites also put people at risk of secondary asbestos exposure when workers who directly handled asbestos interacted with other workers and their family members.

Microscopic fibers could cling to workers’ hair and clothing without notice and settle in the home.

Asbestos-Containing Products

Roughly 3,000 products were made with asbestos, according to the Government of Ontario. Many of these products could be found on various worksites throughout the world.

Asbestos-based products used on worksites included:

  • Cement
  • Drywall
  • Floor tiles
  • Heat-resistant gloves and clothing
  • Roofing
  • Other building materials

Asbestos-containing products are relatively safe and stable when they are sealed or left intact.

But when damaged, disturbed, or modified, asbestos products may release deadly fibers into the air. Some older asbestos-containing products can also crumble and release these fibers.

Asbestos-Exposed Workers and Health Issues

Although most of today’s worksites are asbestos-free, those who were placed at risk decades ago are most at high risk of developing mesothelioma today. This is because it takes 20-50 years before asbestos-related diseases become noticeable.

Did You Know?

Asbestos is easily dislodged from a stable form and can crumble quite easily. Asbestos dust clouds can be hard to see in a worksite, preventing workers from being able to protect themselves.

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they do not instantly cause health problems. Instead, the fibers get stuck in the body and slowly irritate healthy tissue.

Over the decades, this causes scar tissue to form, and, in some cases, malignant (cancerous) tumors to develop.

Asbestos-caused cancers like mesothelioma are extremely aggressive and are often not diagnosed until they have spread throughout the body.

Victims of mesothelioma may be able to pursue compensation to help pay for treatments and hold accountable the manufacturers of the asbestos-containing products they used on the job.

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Asbestos exposure does not always lead to cancers like mesothelioma.

Sometimes, asbestos can cause non-cancerous diseases like asbestosis, which causes shortness of breath, pain, and reduced lung function.

Modern Limits on Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace

Over time, the occupational health risks of asbestos exposure became more apparent.

Agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began controlling asbestos use in 1971, but it was a slow process. By the early 1980s, public outcry led to a flurry of restrictions on asbestos-containing products.

Today, OSHA has set a tight limit on how much asbestos workers can be exposed to.

“Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for asbestosis 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA), with an excursion limit (EL) of 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period.”


Despite these breakthroughs, asbestos is still not totally banned in the United States today — meaning men and women in the workforce today may still be at risk of exposure.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), in 2015 and 2016, a New York man permitted abatement workers to remove asbestos from a large occupation site, violating regulations to keep workers safe from the dangers of asbestos exposure.

The man was aware the facility contained over 400,000 square feet of asbestos-containing materials — but he pressured unprotected workers to quickly remove the asbestos to meet contractor deadlines. After pleading guilty to a Clean Air Act violation in May 2021, the man may be liable for providing restitution to any victims of asbestos-related diseases.

Ultimately, until a total ban is put in place, asbestos exposure in the workplace still poses a threat. Injured workers may be able to hold the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products accountable for their actions.

Compensation for Workplace Asbestos Exposure

If you suffered from asbestos exposure in the workplace and got sick, you may be eligible for mesothelioma compensation from the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.

Manufacturers Hid Asbestos Health Risks for Decades

Manufacturers knew that asbestos exposure could cause life-threatening health problems back in the 1930s — if not earlier.

Yet instead of keeping workers and the general public safe, these corporations hid the health risks since they could make millions. They put money over human life.

You may be able to take legal action against these companies if you developed mesothelioma.

You may receive payment for:

  • Lost income
  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering

Get a free case review to learn more about receiving compensation from asbestos exposure in the workplace.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (n.d.). Asbestos Toxicity: Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos? Retrieved April 2, 2020, from

  2. Killeen, K. (2020, March 13). Asbestos victim pushes job site reform to protect others. Retrieved April 3, 2020, from

  3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). OSHA Fact Sheet: Asbestos. Retrieved April 3, 2020, from

  4. Province of Ontario, Ministry of Labor. (n.d.). List of Suspects Asbestos-Containing Building Materials. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from

  5. Company’s Vice President Pleads Guilty to Negligently Releasing Asbestos. The United States Department of Justice. (2021, May 21).

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