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You operate heavy equipment at construction sites.
Your job is among the toughest of any. It’s also among the most dangerous.
Not just because there is the ever-present risk of on-the-job accidents. It’s also because you probably have been exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos exposure is what causes the cancer mesothelioma. You might already have it and not even know.
Asbestos exposure at construction sites is not the problem it was before the 1990s. But it can be a huge problem if the project involves renovation or expansion of a pre-1990s structure.
Older and outdated asbestos-containing construction materials are common at project sites where heavy equipment operators work. They include:
It does not matter whether your exposure to asbestos is small and brief, or major and continuous. When you are exposed, you are at risk of developing mesothelioma.
Any time you use heavy machinery to move asbestos-containing construction materials from Point A to Point B within the confines of the project site, you are disturbing the asbestos.
In the old days, asbestos was added to construction materials for tensile strength and protection against high heat or flames.
As long as the asbestos was not disturbed, everything was fine.
Asbestos is disturbed when the material containing it is cut, hammered, drilled, banged around, driven over, pushed by a blade, dragged by a backhoe, grabbed by a ripper, or ruptured by a trencher.
Disturbing the asbestos causes the tiny fibers which the mineral is made of to break free and enter the air.
Once in the air, they find their way into your lungs or your stomach. And there they stay always. Mesothelioma takes 10 to 50 years to develop. Scientists wish they understood exactly what asbestos does to cause it. They only know for sure that it does.
Fortunately, not everyone who inhales or swallows asbestos gets mesothelioma. But enough do that it should be of concern to you if you’ve worked around asbestos at any point during your career.
The union to which many heavy equipment operators belong is the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The IUOE represents approximately 400,000 construction workers in a variety of trades — not just heavy equipment operation. It is the 12th largest union in the AFL-CIO.
Asbestos exposure of its members worries the IUOE. Leadership of the union recognizes that the mineral is toxic and causes devastating health problems.
The IUOE offers education to help members know what asbestos is and what it does. Utilizing the IUOE’s education about asbestos is very worthwhile.
The union also offers an excellent health insurance package. It typically includes coverage entitling you to the types of medical services and support a mesothelioma doctor is trained to provide.
Now is the time to have yourself checked out if you think you have ever been exposed to asbestos while working as a heavy equipment operator.
Don’t delay. Mesothelioma is a not disease you can afford to brush off.