The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 125 million people face workplace exposure to asbestos worldwide. This exposure is responsible for some 100,000 occupational deaths annually from diseases like lung cancer and asbestos. The railroad industry is one such occupation affected by the inherent risk of asbestos exposure.
Despite the Occupational Safety and Health Administration limiting asbestos use in construction materials in the 1970s, railroads continued to extensively use it. In many cases the railroad companies were aware of the risks although did not inform its employees. Today, exposure to asbestos is still a risk to railroad workers if their companies utilize locomotive components manufactured prior to 1980.
Railroad workers are exposed to different types of asbestos products such as:
Insulation – Asbestos was used to insulate materials used on steam locomotives. The ceiling insulation inside cabooses had asbestos content while most cabooses had a stove for heating which usually had insulating materials composed of asbestos–until “abated” or substituted for a non-toxic insulating material.
Railroad Equipment – Asbestos was used in gaskets, plaster, wallboards, cement ties and sealing cement.
Locomotive Parts – Asbestos was found in clutches, floor tiles of passenger cars and brake linings. Because asbestos was such a good insulating material, it was used in brake shoes by virtually all railroads at some point.
These are just some examples from a much bigger, very serious problem. You can learn more by reading our article, “Asbestos Diseases and Cancers Arising From Railroad Activities.”
Research conducted by Dr. Wilhelm C. Hueper found that lung cancer cases were more than three times more prominent among “operating” railroad workers (brakemen, engineers and conductors) than “non-operating” workers.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts conducted a study titled, “Past exposure to asbestos among active railroad workers,” and found that before the transition from steam-powered locomotives to diesel-powered during the 1950s, railroad workers were at risk for significant asbestos exposures. While other studies by the same department discovered older workers with jobs associated with the repair of steam locomotives suffered the most exposure.
Asbestos Claims Against Railroads
When a claim is brought against a railroad by a railroad worker, it falls under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Spouses of railroad workers have contracted mesothelioma and that claim is a common-law negligence or a wrongful death claim against a railroad for the personal injuries of that spouse.
Statute of Limitations In Railroad Asbestos Cases
Claims that are brought against railroads under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) must be brought within 3 years when the worker knew or should have known the occupational disease/wrongful death was associated with railroad work. Different limitation periods apply to non-railroad workers.