Asbestos is a fibrous substance that was a popular building material due to its tensile strength, affordability and fire-resistant nature. While negative health effects were noted on a small scale in the early 20th century, the popularity of asbestos use continued for many years until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sought to ban production in the late eighties. The EPA’s total ban on asbestos was quickly overturned, but they were able to get the product banned in six categories: corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper, flooring felt and new uses of asbestos. No full asbestos ban has been reached as of yet, so its use is still prevalent in the United States, despite increased awareness surrounding asbestos-related health issues.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as many as 1.3 million people in the United States still go into a workplace each day where they’re exposed to significant amounts of asbestos. The most common industries affected by asbestos exposure are construction, mining, shipbuilding, heating and cooling, auto repair, roofing and the manufacturing of products containing asbestos. According to experts, there is no “safe” amount of asbestos exposure as even small amounts can cause major negative health effects. Some of the most common effects of asbestos exposure are respiratory problems, abnormalities in the lining of the chest and a lung disease called asbestosis. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to a number of cancers including mesothelioma (cancer of the pleura), lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer.
Who is Liable for Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestos exposure is most likely to occur in the workplace, yet employer liability related to asbestos is not always cut and dry. Since asbestos exposure typically occurs in industrial settings, determining liability involves more than simply identifying the physical location where exposure occurred. Often, contractors are used to performing various functions for industrial organizations, so the employer and the location of employment don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.
When an employee works at multiple job sites for multiple companies, all the while employed by the same contractor, any employer liability for asbestos exposure would reside with the employer rather than the companies in charge of the job sites. However, workers’ compensation laws are considered to be an “exclusive remedy” in many states, meaning that while the affected employee has a right to benefits and recovery through their state’s workers’ compensation structure, they may not be able to sue their employer in court solely based on exposure. They can, however, sue the company responsible for the job site at which they were exposed.
Reducing Liability for Asbestos Exposure
Due to the increased awareness surrounding the effects of asbestos exposure, most – if not all – liability insurance policies now list asbestos as a specific exclusion. However, employers and businesses that utilize contractors can still invest in pollution liability/environmental insurance to help provide protection from asbestos-related claims. This type of insurance policy covers statutory cleanup requirements, third-party claims for bodily injury and property damage, and associated legal expenses resulting from asbestos contamination as well as other pollution/contamination-related claims that may arise.
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