Maritime Lawyers Discuss Asbestos Exposure on Oil Rigs, Oil Platforms and Other Vessels

Maritime Lawyers Discuss Asbestos Exposure on Oil Rigs, Oil Platforms and Other Vessels

It has become well-known worldwide that asbestos was used to make many products including insulation, roofing materials and other products used in residential and commercial construction. However, it is less commonly known that asbestos was used in the petroleum industry, including on offshore oil rigs and platforms.  Maritime asbestos exposure usually occurs with regard to oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore oil rigs that operated from 1960 to mid 1980.  Many offshore employees who worked on oil platforms or oil rigs have been exposed to asbestos.  Of those maritime workers who have been exposed, most will not even realize that their health problems are related to asbestos, because many asbestos-related health problems are unobvious.  If you worked in the oil industry on land or at sea, it is possible that you have been exposed to asbestos and may not even know it.


Asbestos is an all-inclusive term used to describe many natural minerals.  These minerals have different geological names, but together they are commonly called “asbestos-like minerals.”  A common feature is that these asbestos-like minerals can produce very tiny fibers which break easily and are inhaled into the lungs by oil platform workers and other who come into contact with them.  The human body cannot expel the asbestos fibers breathed in through the lungs and therefore they remain in the body of an individual forever.


Oil field workers are at an elevated risk for asbestos-related diseases.  For oil field work, asbestos was used for its heat-resistant properties and because of its superiority as a coupling agent or bonding agent.  The bonding quality of asbestos was very useful when mixing it with drilling mud.  Much of the asbestos used in oil field work was pure asbestos fibers mixed directly into the drilling mud.


Those who work on oil-drilling sites run a high risk of asbestos exposure because of the ACM (“asbestos containing materials”) often used to insulate their work equipment.  Because of the fire dangers present in oil fields, asbestos was frequently utilized for its fire and heat resistance.  As asbestos insulation ages, it becomes weak, and asbestos fibers are able to flake off and float around as dust in the air.  Furthermore, oil worker protective clothing was at one time itself made from material that contained asbestos fibers.  These outdated asbestos fire suits could expose the wearer to fibers if worn or torn.


There are a wide variety of health problems that can be linked to asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma.  This is a very specific asbestos-related cancer that usually occurs in the lungs, abdomen, near the heart or testicles.  Asbestosis develops from asbestos fibers inhaled into the lungs, causing scarring.  Lung Cancer can even develop as the result of indirect asbestos exposure.  It has been clinically proven that asbestos in the lungs of a person greatly increases their risk of becoming a lung cancer patient. This is especially true with smokers exposed to asbestos.  While cigarette smokers may think their lung cancer is only related to past smoking history, occupational exposure to asbestos possibly contributed to their lung cancer as well.


Once you have developed lung cancer as the result of your exposure to asbestos, there is often little good news.  However, workers who have been exposed to asbestos while working with gas and/or oil in a maritime setting, oil field, oil rig, oil platform, or other maritime structure may qualify for compensation under maritime law which can provide a greater financial recovery for the injured worker and their family.  A federal law known as the Jones Act can bring relief to these workers if they were exposed to asbestos while working at sea or on a barge drilling, or even on a boat with added asbestos insulation not involved in oil drilling.  Under the Jones Act and maritime law, claims can be filed directly against former employers for asbestos and other toxic exposure suffered during your employment.  


Asbestos exposure has been a major focus of litigation since the 1970s.  It important for every worker who was exposed to asbestos and believes he may have suffered an asbestos-related injury such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer to make sure they speak with qualified lawyers who understand the ins and outs of all possible applicable laws.  Most lawyers will not even know that if you worked on a semi-submersible drilling rig, jack-up oil rig, offshore oil platform or other maritime vessel, you can recover under the Jones Act and maritime law.  This can be a forceful remedy, since most asbestos producers are now in bankruptcy protection.  Claims under the Jones Act and maritime law may be filed directly against former employers, as opposed to the bankrupt asbestos manufacturers.  The maritime employers are largely still very available defendants.  If you need advice about offshore asbestos exposure, you should contact a maritime lawyer today.

Stacey E. Burke is a maritime injury lawyer in Houston, Texas. She practices with Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, LLP, an established firm handling offshore injury cases worldwide for over 45 years.  To further connect with Ms. Burke, you can follow her on Twitter or send a LinkedIn connection request.  She also blogs on multiple personal injury topics on a variety of web sites.  You can connected with SMSH via Facebook as well.

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