Are Construction Workers the Only Ones at Risk of Asbestos Illnesses?

Updated on October 17, 2022

Asbestos-related illnesses have commonly been linked to construction workers, but what other jobs are at risk, and why? This article explores this question in more depth…

A couple of people looking out a window

Description automatically generated with low confidence

Asbestos-related illnesses have commonly been linked to the construction industry. Of course, this is down to the fact that asbestos has mainly been used in constructing buildings. That said, this simply isn’t the whole picture.

What you may not know is that the numbers of people seeking an asbestosis or mesothelioma compensation claim are growing. This is down to the fact that asbestos-related illnesses are commonly hard to detect, and only really surface around 15 to 60 years later.

However, now that these illnesses are coming to light since the banning of asbestos, it’s not just men in construction who are coming forward with these claims. Women from all industries, as well as men from industries other than construction, have been affected. The question is, why and how? Find out, here…

The Story Behind Asbestos in Construction

Asbestos is a fibrous rock that was used for decades in the construction industry due to its desirable components. Durability, fire protection, and insulation, amongst other things, made it perfect for use in buildings. However, after discovering the dangers associated with this material, asbestos was later banned for use in buildings in the UK in 1999.

Why Was Asbestos Banned in Construction?

So, why was asbestos banned? Well, it was discovered that it led to a variety of chronic and debilitating illnesses, including:

  • Mesothelioma: a fatal cancer of the lining of the lung, which is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure.
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer: almost always fatal.
  • Asbestosis: debilitating scarring of the lungs, which really affects the victim’s quality of life.
  • Pleural thickening: thickening in the membrane surrounding the lungs, causing breathlessness due to lack of lung expansion.

How Are Construction Workers at Risk of Asbestos-Related Illnesses?

Cutting, drilling or sawing asbestos – or even working alongside it – can lead to airborne particles depositing into the lungs. This means that not only are construction workers 20+ years ago at risk of developing these problems, so too are construction workers today. After all, there are still thousands of buildings containing this material which still need working on, and that’s just in the UK where restrictions are stricter.

According to the HSE government report in 2005, it’s thought that asbestos was related to the deaths of over 2,500 construction workers in 2005. This accounts for over two-thirds of cancer deaths in the construction industry, and the numbers are not falling.

What Other Industries Are at Risk of Contracting Asbestos-Related 

As we’ve seen, workers in construction and refurbishment are always going to be at risk of breathing in asbestos particles until it’s completely eradicated. This includes:

  • Builders
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • Painters
  • Decorators
  • Architects
  • Carpenters
  • Demolition workers
  • Roofers

That said, there are also some surprising industries also at risk. Some of these include:

A teacher teaching a class

Description automatically generated with low confidence

School Workers

 In 2004, school teachers, secretaries, and teaching assistants were eighth on the list of people most likely to develop asbestos-related illnesses. This was down to an array of very simple tasks, including something as little as slamming a classroom door, taking a book off of a shelf, or pinning a child’s work on the walls.

Retail and Office Workers

One of the main causes of asbestos-related illness in retail workers and shop assistants is stacking shelves. Working in buildings erected before 1999, and unearthing dust from these days gone by, is sure to cause a problem. Similarly, office workers have also been at risk of exposure from similar reasons described above.

Nurses and Doctors

It’s estimated that nurses and doctors who have worked in hospitals for decades may be three times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population. Stray dust particles from construction and renovation in years gone by is sure to have tainted the picture.

Factory Workers

A somewhat less surprising industry at risk of exposure are factor workers. Whether working in a textile factory, woodworking, steelworks, or anything in between, working with heavy machinery in large, old warehouses is bound to uplift asbestos particles.


Now we know about the risks described above, it’s probably no surprise that the final occupation on our list at risk is cleaning. Sweeping up after a day’s work in a school or office is likely to unearth some dangerous dust particles.

Asbestos-Related Illnesses in Women Are Also Growing

Although men are the most at risk of developing these illnesses, the list of women coming forward too is ever-growing. This is most likely due to the many industries above that are at risk. However, it may also have something to do with secondary exposure from the traditional days of the nuclear family.

Back when only men went out to work in the 20th century, many women would have stayed at home to cook and clean. When their labourer husbands came back from work each day, these housewives would be met by dusty and dirty clothing they had to wash. Even being exposed to potential asbestos particles on this clothing, and on skin and hair, has been deemed a hazard.

Alternatively, community exposure from environmental contact could also explain it. After all, asbestos is a naturally occurring substance, so any contamination from mining areas, processing plants, or manufacturers may also pose a risk.

A group of men wearing helmets

Description automatically generated with low confidence

Are You at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

As you can see, asbestos is all around us, so it’s not just those within the construction industry who are at risk. Whether you’re a man or a woman, and whatever occupation you’re in, you may have been affected.

This article is not intended to scare anyone – only to inform. Asbestos-related illnesses are coming to light more and more due to the prolonged ingestion period. It means that deaths related to the substance are becoming more common, but it’s thought this will peter off in decades to come.

Do you think your workplace has exposed you to asbestos=-related illnesses? Be sure to seek the help of an expert, or even a solicitor, to see if you have a case and can make a claim.

Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained medical professional. Be sure to consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting up


1 – Guilherme Cunha,

2 – National Cancer Institute,

3 – Pedro Henrique Santos,

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.