The Risks of Asbestos Exposure on Older Ships: Implications for Maritime Workers

by | Jul 8, 2023 | Firm News, Maritime Law

Asbestos exposure remains a significant health risk for maritime workers, particularly those working on older ships. This article examines the prevalence of asbestos on such vessels, the health risks associated with exposure, and the necessary measures to protect workers and ensure compliance with international safety standards.

1. Prevalence of Asbestos on Older Cargo Ships

Historically, asbestos was widely used in shipbuilding due to its heat resistance and insulating properties. It can be found in various parts of older ships, including insulation materials, gaskets, brakes, and fireproofing systems. Despite the known health risks, many vessels constructed before asbestos use was heavily regulated in the late 20th century still contain these materials.

  • Long-Term Presence: Many cargo ships have service lifetimes extending several decades, meaning that ships built in the 20th century with asbestos-containing materials may still be in operation today.
  • Maintenance and Renovation Work: Maintenance, repair, or renovation work on these older vessels can disturb asbestos-containing materials, releasing fibers into the air and increasing the risk of inhalation by unaware crew members.

Understanding where asbestos might be found and the conditions that might lead to its disturbance is crucial for managing its risks effectively.

2. Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos fibers poses severe health risks, primarily affecting the lungs and respiratory system:

  • Asbestosis: A chronic lung condition caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, leading to lung scarring and severe breathing difficulties.
  • Mesothelioma: A rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and heart, almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure.
  • Other Lung Cancers: Asbestos exposure significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer, especially among smokers.

The latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms can be several decades, complicating diagnosis and treatment.

3. Legal and Safety Measures

To protect maritime workers from asbestos exposure, strict regulations and safety measures are necessary:

  • Regulatory Compliance: International maritime safety regulations now often require the identification and safe management of asbestos-containing materials aboard ships. Compliance with these regulations is not just a legal requirement but a crucial part of ensuring worker safety.
  • Proper Safety Equipment and Training: Workers dealing with or around asbestos should be equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and trained in safe handling practices to minimize exposure.
  • Health Monitoring: Regular health checks and monitoring for workers potentially exposed to asbestos can help in early detection and treatment of related diseases.

In conclusion, while the use of asbestos has decreased significantly, the threat remains for maritime workers on older vessels. Awareness and adherence to safety practices, along with robust legal and regulatory frameworks, are vital to protecting these workers from the severe health risks posed by asbestos exposure.

Our experienced lawyers handle maritime personal injury and wrongful death litigation of all kinds and the skills needed to represent the families of loved ones who have lost their lives or those who have been seriously injured as a result of a maritime accident. The lawyers of Spagnoletti Law Firm have handled maritime lawsuits throughout the country.

The experienced and aggressive vessel accident attorneys at Spagnoletti Law Firm can help you understand your rights if you or a loved one was a victim of an accident on a ship. There are strict and short time limits on making claims related to maritime injuries, so please contact us online or call 713-804-9306 or to learn more about your rights.