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Mechanics Asbestos Exposure

Auto mechanics are exposed to many on-the-job dangers, from oil-slicked floors to hazardous heavy equipment. For years, mechanics were also exposed to toxic asbestos fibers.

Mechanics asbestos exposure has been well-documented over the years, and the asbestos exposure attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman are committed to helping those affected obtain just compensation.

This can be a challenge sometimes because mechanics may have worked for more than one company, and may have been exposed to the material by several different products routinely used in those shops.

Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral that is heat resistant, was ideal for many auto parts, including:

  • Brakes – In particular, brake pads, rotors and shoes.
  • Clutches – Similar to brakes, clutches need to be able to hold up to significant grinding and friction. Asbestos helped to protect against corrosion.
  • Heat Seals – These devices help to shield against transferring heat from various body and engine parts.
  • Hood Liners – These protect underneath the hood of the car from heat damage.
  • Gaskets – These devices are used in various engine parts and hoses.
  • Body Construction – Asbestos was frequently used in the plastic and/ or fiberglass compounds that comprised the body of the vehicles.
  • Engine Components – Engine parts must be constructed with the ability to protect against heat.
  • Insulation – Asbestos in insulation materials kept components from being exposed to high heat.

Though asbestos in brake linings and other vehicle materials has mostly been phased out, it has not disappeared altogether. They used to be used in virtually all vehicles for years, most U.S. auto makers have committed to not using asbestos in clutch or brake linings. However, there is no guarantee that aftermarket suppliers of such products won’t use asbestos.

Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, which means it has been proven to cause cancer in human beings. Specifically, exposure to asbestos is associated with:

  • Mesothelioma – a terminal cancer of the mesothelium, which is the lining of certain organs, such as the lungs, stomach or even heart.
  • Lung Cancer – Cancer that occurs internally in the lungs, and may spread to lymph nodes.
  • Asbestosis – An inflammatory condition affecting the lungs that causes shortness of breath, coughing and permanent lung damage.
  • Gastrointestinal, Colorectal, Throat, Kidney, Esophagus and Gallbladder Cancers.

The National Cancer Institute notes that these conditions are generally diagnosed decades after exposure. For those individuals who were exposed to asbestos while working as mechanics, we generally don’t see a diagnosis until 20 to 30 years after their first exposure, and sometimes even long after they have retired.

Common Practices of Mechanics That Involve Asbestos Exposure

There are numerous ways in which mechanics specifically are exposed to asbestos. That includes:

  • Brake Rotor Grinding. In the process of sanding rotors and brake linings, asbestos can be released into the air from compounds that previously might have been stable and thus relatively safe. It’s only when the asbestos fibers and dust are released into the air that they become harmful. Proper ventilation is critical.
  • Improper Cleaning. Vacuuming asbestos dust or materials is unsafe and exposes mechanics to asbestos. In some cases, even wiping those particles down with a wet rag isn’t enough to make sure the particles aren’t released into the air.

Asbestos dust fibers can linger long after work on an asbestos-laden part is finished if the area isn’t cleaned properly. It can spread 75 feet, and potentially expose other mechanics and even customers who go into the shop. If the fibers get caught on the worker’s clothing or car seats, it can potentially expose workers’ families as well.

As noted by a 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Occupational Hygiene, auto mechanics were exposed to asbestos often in the past, mostly due to the presence of chrysotile asbestos contained in clutches and brakes.

Mechanics who aren’t protected from these exposures will be at heightened risk of developing asbestos-related cancers.

OSHA and the EPA provide detailed safety guides for how employers can help reduce auto workers’ asbestos exposure risk – including requiring protective suits and respirators when more than 1 percent of asbestos is present.

OSHA and EPA Aim to Reduce Mechanics Asbestos Exposure

Auto technicians and home mechanics who repair and replace vehicle parts are usually protected by law under regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

OSHA’s regulations in 29 CFR 1910.1001 details occupational exposures to asbestos in all industries (except construction and shipbuilding). Under this section, asbestos includes:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Actinolite
  • Any of these minerals chemically treated and/ or altered

All employers are required to ensure no employee is exposed to a concentration of airborne asbestos in excess of 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average. This determination is made by sampling breathing air zones for each worker.

As it relates to workers in the auto brake and clutch inspection, disassembly, repair and assembly, there is Appendix F. This is a mandatory regulation regarding the engineering controls and work practices that employers must implement during these operations to reduce mechanics asbestos exposure and ultimately their risk of a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Appendix F outlines cleaning practice areas that employers can use to minimize mechanics’ asbestos exposure. These include:

  • Negative Pressure Enclosure/ HEPA Vacuum System Method. This involves a system that encloses the part with asbestos in a special box with clear plastic walls fitted tightly around the piece to limit exposure.
  • Low Pressure/ Wet Cleaning Method – This low-pressure spray wets down the asbestos-laden part so that the dust won’t spread while the workers are carrying out their repairs.
  • Wet Method. This involves using a spray bottle or some other low-pressure means to wet down the clutch or brake parts so the fibers won’t be released.

For certain state and local government workers not protected by the Asbestos Standards of OSHA, there is the Environmental Protection Agency’s 40 CFR Part 763, Subpart G. This provision requires state and local government employers whose workers perform repair, cleaning or replacement of asbestos-containing clutch plates and brake pads, shoes and linings or removal of asbestos-containing residue from brake drugs or clutch housings to comply with the OSHA standards set forth in 29 CFR 1910.1001.

Because asbestos exposure can still happen on the job for mechanics, it’s important for workers to document when asbestos exposure occurred and carefully monitor their medical condition.

Mechanic Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits

Numerous auto companies and vehicle part manufacturers have faced mesothelioma lawsuits filed by mechanics who fell ill after suffering occupational exposure to asbestos.

The United Auto Workers in 2005 backed a $140 billion asbestos compensation fund plan that had bipartisan support and would have established a means for auto companies to shield themselves from multi-million dollar liability payouts for asbestos exposure. Firms facing liability would pay into the compensate fund, and in so doing would insulate themselves from lawsuits by auto workers alleging negligent exposure to asbestos.

Damages would be capped at $1.1 million per claimant.

The proposal died in committee and hasn’t been revived since.

Consequently, former auto mechanics can still file mesothelioma lawsuits against these companies for their occupational exposure. In cases involving the most severe illnesses, it’s not unheard of that plaintiffs receive damages of more than $1 million.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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