Working with/Exposure to Asbestos-Containing Materials
For many years, CWA members employed as telecommunications technicians (e.g., lineman, installers, cable splicers, and service technicians) have worked with/in close proximity to asbestos-containing products including sprayed-on and wrapped insulation, wallboard, vault covers, and construction shingles. Such work has most often been performed in manufacturing, construction or renovation sites, and within commercial and residential buildings.
Asbestos exposure may lead to several serious and life-threatening diseases. For example, over the last several years several telecommunications technicians/CWA members have contracted and died from asbestos-caused lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
Since the late 1970’s, CWA’s Occupational Safety and Health Department has emphasized the need to ensure the Union’s members were not exposed to asbestos-containing products by advocating represented employers take strong protective action and the Union take the necessary action to ensure represented-employers are indeed providing the necessary protections. Along with the development and distribution of asbestos educational materials, the Department initiated specific activities to ensure employer compliance with the OSHA Asbestos Standard. These efforts included the development and roll-out of a comprehensive medical surveillance program involving some 7,000 CWA members/telecommunications technicians. Medical findings, which identified disease rates in the low 30% range, led to an acceptance within the medical and legal communities that CWA members employed as telecommunications technicians were a high risk group for asbestos-caused health problems.
As proof that our members may still encounter asbestos-exposed work locations, in 2012, CWA District 2-13 leaders and activists became aware that asbestos-transite cable ducts were contained in areas where Verizon technicians/members of CWA Locals 2201, 2222, and 2275 were assigned to perform work. Even worse, these asbestos-containing products were in a deteriorated state allowing for the asbestos to become airborne/friable, thus placing our members in extreme harm. CWA Local 2222 took the lead by contacting and filing a complaint with Virginia OSHA. In turn, after conducting a thorough investigation, Virginia OSHA cited Verizon for violations of the Federal OSHA Asbestos Standard. Part of this action involved a clean-up of the work site, the provision of training regarding the hazards associated with asbestos, and medical surveillance of affected technicians. This successful action should remind CWA members and represented workers of the value of belonging to CWA- collective action on behalf of our members makes us strong.
CWA members employed as telecommunications technicians who have worked with/in close proximity to asbestos-containing materials should bring this matter to the attention of their physician. In turn, your doctor can provide information regarding follow-up medical procedures. Also, if a medical problem is identified, affected members should file a claim with their state workers’ compensation commission.
For additional information, please go to the Occupational Safety and Health Department’s webpage, www.cwasafetyandhealth.org, and review the CWA fact sheet “Asbestos and the Workplace.” If you have any questions, feel free to contact the Union’s Safety and Health Department at 202-434-1100.