Whether performing a home renovation project or raising a skyscraper, the construction trades encompass a wide variety of workers. Workers in the construction field build everything from homes and offices to roads, bridges and factories. The three general areas of construction are building construction; civil construction; and industrial construction.
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The construction field is littered with opportunities for workplace injury, due to the intense nature of the work and heavy machinery involved. Additionally, this field frequently involved the use of several dangerous building materials, some of which are still commonly encountered in older buildings. One of these materials is asbestos, which saw heavy usage due to its strengthening ability and heat, chemical and electrical resistance.
Several periods in American history contributed to the heavy usage of asbestos that exposed so many to this dangerous material. One of those periods was during the 1920s, which brought the United States’ first great construction boom. Motorized vehicles, increased mobility and urban connection through these roads helped spur on this explosion of growth, which presented numerous new opportunities for those in the construction trade. However, this period also brought numerous opportunities for worker asbestos exposure, as the dangerous impacts of this material were unknown to the public.
The period directly after World War II also saw heavy asbestos usage, as returning servicemen came home to a receptive economy ready to support the baby boom generation and their need for new homes. Despite emerging proof of asbestos’ dangers during the 1950s, the material’s use peaked between World War II and the 1960s. That popularity continued, with the material’s appearance, in one form or another, in virtually all homes, factories, schools and office buildings. In fact, many buildings were apparently improved with the application of this fireproof material in a spray-on form during this time, allowing buildings to grow in size due to its newfound use coating steel structures and preventing fire-induced buckling.
Those most immediately impacted by this widespread use of asbestos were the construction laborers, who worked with these materials, such as joint compounds and various forms of insulation, without any protective equipment or respirators. Other construction products asbestos could be found in were roofing materials, plasters and flooring products.
Later, as these homes and buildings aged and required renovation, additional individuals in this field were exposed to these materials. In particular, those in the insulation replacement trades suffered great exposure risks, though anyone working in homes built before 1980 continued to see such risks, based on the material’s widespread use. Even today, professional abatement companies remain busy, taking over the initial steps of home and office renovation as these dangerous fibers are carefully removed before renovation takes place. This is vital to ensuring the toxic fibers cannot spread throughout a location and impact those inside.