Shipyard workers dedicate their careers to building ships primarily for industrial and military purposes. Unfortunately, what many shipbuilders don't realize or haven't been warned against is the fact that asbestos exposure on the job is perhaps the greatest work hazard they face, and they can be exposed constantly in their line of work.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to health complications and asbestos-related diseases decades after the exposure happens. One such disease is mesothelioma.
Decades after working in the shipbuilding industry, shipyard workers are discovering that they have mesothelioma, an incurable type of cancer that can affect the linings of the lungs (most common), abdominal cavity, heart, and testicles. Let's take a look at what mesothelioma is and how shipyard workers are at risk of developing it.
Asbestos Use at Shipyards
During the 1930s and late into the 20th century, asbestos was used in just about every shipyard as a preferred construction material. Shipbuilding was a massive market at that time. It was one of America's largest industries and largest employers. Beginning with World War II, ship production for the United States military was booming, as was the merchant marine fleet.
Asbestos was in high demand in shipyards because it was a good insulator, was fire resistant and non-corrosive, thermally inert, very cheap, and it was easy to install. Heat control, rust prevention, and fire protection were of great concern for shipbuilders, and asbestos happened to solve these. The heat generated by engines and boilers could be very extreme and needed to be controlled to provide comfort and safety for seafarers. There was also a lot of noise onboard ships, of which asbestos seemed to be good insulation against. Unfortunately, the long-term health risks were unknown for decades.
Shipyard Workers and Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is virtually harmless until it is agitated and airborne, which means that it was rampantly airborne in shipyards due to the nature of the work. Shipyard workers were constantly agitating asbestos, whether it be during construction, repairs, or deconstruction of ships. Much of this work was done in confined areas with poor ventilation, which led to an increased risk of shipyard workers developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. Many shipbuilders worked in these environments for decades without the correct protective equipment and without knowledge of the dangers they were in. Additionally, many workers in surrounding areas of the shipyards could have been exposed, as well as any family members who came into contact with workers contaminated with asbestos fibers. The fibers could easily cling to shipyard worker's clothes, shoes, hair, or skin, and they could have unknowingly put their family or housemates at risk.
Shipbuilding and Asbestos Products
From bow to stern, asbestos products were used for shipbuilding in nearly every component in the 20th century. Ships were always heavily loaded with fuel and other combustible materials (especially during wartime), which meant that fire protection was essential- and asbestos products provided that. Insulation that could help regulate temperature was also needed on ships to ensure that sailors would be protected from extreme temperatures while at sea. As a result, shipbuilders used millions of tons of asbestos products to construct ships, including:
- Flooring panels and ceiling tiles meant to dampen acoustics
- Insulation to serve as fire protection and to protect against extreme temperatures in engine rooms, boiler rooms, galleys, hallways, and living quarters
- Asbestos-containing curtains and bedding
- In and around furnaces and incinerators
- In pipe wrapping, sealants, and gaskets
Due to ships being entirely hand-built in the 20th century, workers personally handled asbestos products daily, installing them on ships that ranged from tugboat sized to aircraft carriers.
Shipyard Workers With The Highest Risk of Mesothelioma
While shipyards were massive facilities that employed thousands of workers and everyone was at risk of asbestos exposure, there are specific shipyard jobs that likely had a higher risk for mesothelioma due to the sheer amount of asbestos they were exposed to. These higher-risk shipyard jobs include:
- Tile installers
- Fabric technicians
- Metal fabricators
- Janitorial and cleanup crews
Other shipyard workers that weren't tradespeople that could have been exposed to asbestos and are at risk of developing mesothelioma include:
- Quality control and testing technicians
- Naval architects and drafters
- Supervisors and contractors
- Nautical, electrical, and mechanical engineers
- Administrative personnel
- Inspectors and government regulators
It can be assumed that these roles came into contact with asbestos at least once during their careers.
Mesothelioma in Shipyard Workers
In the U.S., there are approximately 2,000-3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year. Approximately 70-90% of these cases are individuals who had prior exposure to asbestos, whether known or unknown, at work. Many of these cases tend to come from men and women who worked near or at shipyards that used asbestos products to construct ships.
Asbestos, when inhaled, can lodge itself in the body and is impossible to expel once it does so. These asbestos fibers then irritate body tissues and eventually cause mesothelioma to develop. Unfortunately, mesothelioma cannot be identified right away. It can take 10-50 years before mesothelioma develops. It may be many decades before a shipyard worker realizes that they've been affected by asbestos.
Until the 1970s, it wasn't widely known that asbestos could cause serious or even fatal health issues. While asbestos use has decreased across industries, to this day there is still asbestos present at shipyards and on old ships that require repairs. The difference now is that companies producing asbestos products and/or who build ships are required to provide a warning to those that come in contact with it.
Compensation for Asbestos-Caused Mesothelioma
If you were exposed to asbestos resulting in mesothelioma and were not given a warning, you could be eligible for financial compensation from your employer or the other parties responsible for your asbestos exposure.
If you were a shipyard worker and you developed mesothelioma as a result of your work with asbestos at a shipyard, you could be eligible for financial compensation. There are asbestos trust funds that you could potentially make claims for and legal settlements that could be filed on your behalf to help cover any medical expenses, long-term care, or income loss that resulted from your mesothelioma diagnosis. If you were also a military veteran, you could be eligible for VA benefits that would cover your medical costs and provide you with other types of compensation.
If you are a family member that lost a relative to mesothelioma caused by their work at a shipyard, you could potentially file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Contact our team today to see what we can do to help you receive compensation for your losses and for what you've endured.