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Why former construction workers might be amongst high-risk groups for COVID-19

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on March 25th, 2020

Construction workers are exposed to various toxic chemicals that can end up causing serious respiratory diseases and even some types of cancer. In light of the recent coronavirus pandemic, occupational toxic exposure might put a big number of former workers at high risk for severe complications.

Occupational exposure to toxic chemicals can cause various lung diseases that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic can be life-threatening and can put former construction workers at high risk of developing severe symptoms and complications. For example, occupational exposure to asbestos and silica can lead to diseases that cause fibrosis in the lung tissue (asbestosis/silicosis), COPD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or lung cancer. The most common way through which construction workers can get contaminated with toxic chemicals is by inhalation, but it could also happen through ingestion or skin absorption. While some chemicals can cause irritation of the respiratory system and thus alert workers of their danger, some of them are practically invisible and far more dangerous as they can enter directly in the lungs and start causing symptoms even 30 years after the exposure stops.

Up until the 80s, a lot of construction materials contained toxic ingredients that were mixed in with others. Adhesives, tar, cement, roofing and flooring materials, insulation materials as well as paint are just part of the products in which asbestos or silica could be found. Considering the health risks involved in working with these products, former construction workers should take extra protection measures against the novel coronavirus. Even if they have no symptoms of a disease that can be associated with toxic exposure such as lung cancer if they know they have a history of toxic exposure they need to be alert and constantly check up on their health. As COVID-19 attacks the lungs, already having a respiratory disease can lead to serious complications, including the need for ventilation and intensive care.

Why former construction workers might be amongst high-risk groups for COVID-19

Construction workers are amongst the people with the highest toxic exposure risk, as they not only come in contact with toxic materials used in their own trade but also those used in shared work environments. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has approximated that there are about 70 different toxic substances to which construction workers could be exposed to.

A study conducted by the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program found that almost 40% of construction workers tested had some form of lung abnormality. They also found that workers exposed to asbestos had a much higher percentage of abnormalities that those exposed to dust or less harmful toxins. This might be because asbestos is not as obvious to detect, therefore more difficult to protect against. This was once a very popular ingredient due to its heat and fire-resisting properties, that could be found in various construction products. While it has been phased out, there are still countless sites where asbestos could be found, continuing to put construction workers at risk.

An American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine study is estimating 1.3 million construction workers still at risk for asbestos exposure, especially those performing renovations or demolitions of buildings constructed before 1970.

Amongst the former construction workers that should be concerned about their health situation amongst the COVID-19 pandemic there are:

COVID-19 risks for former construction workers and protection measures

The novel coronavirus has been categorized as a respiratory virus, that attacks the lungs and can lead to pneumonia as well as other severe complications. As occupational toxic exposure is often linked with respiratory diseases and even lung cancer, former workers who have been diagnosed with these diseases are at a high risk of developing severe complications in the case of getting infected with COVID-19. These severe complications can mean the need for artificial ventilation as well as admission to intensive care.

The best way to protect yourself is through social distancing and trying to avoid close contact even with family members who are displaying symptoms similar to those of the novel coronavirus as well as respecting all the guidelines recommended by the CDC such as:

  • Washing your hands constantly
  • Disinfecting certain surfaces of the house
  • Wearing gloves and a face mask in the case that someone in your house is showing symptoms

Former construction workers with cancer which developed as a result of workplace asbestos exposure are entitled to compensation

Asbestos was heavily used in various industries before the 1980s and the dangers of exposure were carefully covered up by the responsible companies. Between 1920 and 1980, people who worked in construction were in contact with high concentrations of asbestos. Years later, many of these victims developed serious diseases, along with their family members who also got sick from the asbestos fibers they were bringing home on their clothes and hair. If you have cancer that occurred as a result of occupational asbestos exposure, you are entitled to compensation. With over 25 years of os experience in pursuing compensation for asbestos victims and their family members, our attorneys will help you file a claim with the asbestos trust funds of the companies which exposed you to asbestos. However, you should act as soon as possible, as these claims usually have a statute of limitations of 3 years in most states. We have handled thousands of cases that have taken us all over the country. You are not required to file your asbestos claim in the state where you live. We have a core group of attorneys and staff that have worked solely on asbestos cases for over 25 years.