Asbestos was often used to make floor tiles, especially before the 1980s. Tile installers worked with them in a variety of projects and buildings, meaning they could be at risk of exposure to asbestos fibers. While the risk of asbestos exposure was thought to be fairly low, there are records of some tile workers getting asbestos-related diseases later in life. The risk was higher for flooring workers who used vinyl sheet flooring.
Tile Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2018: 119,600
- Similar Occupations: Tile and marble setters, carpenters, glaziers, construction laborers and helpers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Medium
Most tiles that were made before the 1980s were composed of vinyl, which is a reliable and flexible mixture that was inexpensive and durable. But asbestos often was added to tiles to make them fireproof for commercial applications. Asbestos tiles were often used from the 1920s through the 1980s because of their toughness and value.
Tile Workers Asbestos Exposure
It is the job of tile workers to physically lay tiles. When they are not actually involved in making the tiles, they are needed to cut tiles to size and file down edges. Tile installation usually involves sanding, shaping, sanding, and fitting tiles. In the past with older tiles, these activities would disturb the asbestos fibers, releasing them into the air where they could be breathed in and hurt the worker.
Tile workers often were given face guards to use when doing dangerous work such as sanding, which could create a lot of toxic dust. They were made to protect workers but did not always do a good job, and not all workers wore them.
Asbestos in vinyl tile products becomes hazardous when tiny fibers of asbestos are put into the air. If the material is in stable condition, the tile does not usually present a threat to the worker. The asbestos is usually contained in vinyl so the fibers cannot escape. But when the tiles are cut, sanded, or disturbed, asbestos can be released. If the material is inhaled or swallowed on a regular basis over the years, asbestos fibers can lead to mesothelioma.
Note that asbestos vinyl sheet flooring has a higher asbestos risk than regular floor tiles. This type of flooring comes in big pieces and is cut to fit the room size. This material often had a friable asbestos backing and cutting this material could be dangerous to the worker.
Scientific Studies on Tile Workers Asbestos Exposure
However, a study in 2002 looked at the risk of asbestos exposure when tiles are removed. It was found there was a higher risk of older asbestos-containing tiles having fibers become airborne, which can lead to mesothelioma.
Tile Workers Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
One notable lawsuit saw a former tile worker from Connecticut when a $2 million jury award for his mesothelioma. Lawyers in other jurisdictions have won awards for former tile workers who got mesothelioma from working with asbestos-laced tiles.
Another lawsuit was filed in the 1990s by a flooring contractor named Robert Ehret who was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He filed a lawsuit against Congoleum Corporation and several other firms. He got cancer after he was exposed to asbestos in vinyl flooring and tile products for more than 20 years. His family was awarded $3.3 million for his pain and suffering.
If you worked with tiles that contained asbestos, it is important to have regular medical examinations to ensure that you have not contracted an asbestos-related disease. It can take 20 to 40 years for cancer to appear.
Some of the companies that manufactured asbestos vinyl products, including tiles, were American Bilrite, Amtico Floors, Armstrong World Industries, Congoleum Corporation, EverWear, GAF Corporation, Kentile Floors, and Montgomery Ward.