Maritime accidents often happen in the blink of an eye. A sudden slip, a swinging cargo net, or misfiring machinery can cause quick and devastating injuries. However, many Jones Act seamen are hurt little by little each day, only showing symptoms after months or years of workplace exposure.
Under maritime law, workers who suffer hazardous exposure and occupational diseases while working on a vessel are entitled to benefits—and could potentially sue for damages if their condition was caused by negligence.
Risks of Asbestos Exposure in Jones Act Workers
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used in construction and industrial operations because of its high heat and corrosion resistance. As late as the 1970s, it was considered the ideal choice for building insulation and firefighting materials due to its ability to repel heat and dampen sound.
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated asbestos as a toxic substance, banning its use in many consumer products. While its applications are strictly regulated, asbestos is still used in shipbuilding operations.
Jones Act seamen are at high risk of suffering the ill-effects of asbestos due to:
- Fireproofing. Asbestos has been used to wrap boilers, engines, pipes, and other parts of the vessel that required additional strength or fire resistance. It may also be used in tiles and flooring, or in patching compounds for walls and ceilings.
- Construction and maintenance. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed during shipbuilding, shipbreaking, repairs, or maintenance, tiny particles may be released into the air or onto workers’ clothing.
- Constant contact. Unlike other workers, seamen don’t go home at the end of the day, giving them no reprieve from exposure. They eat, sleep, and live on ships potentially containing asbestos, placing them at risk of inhaling dangerous fibers during their work and their leisure time.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rules in place to protect workers from asbestos exposure, including guidelines on cleanup and disposal and emergency procedures in the case of unexpected asbestos disturbance. Unfortunately, these regulations do little to protect workers who were first exposed to the harmful mineral decades ago.
Asbestos May Lead to Cancer Diagnosis
When asbestos is disturbed, its fibers break apart and release tiny particles into the air. These microscopic fibers become lodged in the lungs, organs, and tissues of the body, causing genetic and cellular damage. Over time, the fibers cause healthy cells to turn cancerous.
Asbestos has a long latency period, and can lie in the body 15 to 35 years before causing symptoms. While asbestos-related diseases may take years to develop, it takes only a few months for cancer cells to spread or metastasize.
Jones Act seamen who have been exposed to asbestos may suffer:
- Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, and other organs. Symptoms may include chest pain, excessive coughing, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood.
- Lung cancer. While mesothelioma happens in the lining of the lungs, lung cancer causes cell disruption inside the lung. Asbestos may cause both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer, both of which require aggressive treatment.
- Asbestosis. Even when asbestos doesn’t cause cancer, it can lead to progressive or lifelong lung disease. Prolonged damage can cause scarring in the lung tissue, causing chronic respiratory infections, shortness of breath, and severe asthma attacks.
If you or a loved one was diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease after working on a vessel, you could receive Jones Act benefits for medical care and lost wages. Family members who lost a loved one from these conditions may be owed significant death benefits, as well as the ability to file a lawsuit for wrongful death.
Call the maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form today to set up your no-obligation consultation. To learn more about these types of claims, start reading your complimentary copy of our guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.